Critique Group Commonly Asked Questions
These frequently asked questions are important to consider when choosing a critique group. However, please keep in mind that all groups are managed differently - it is up to the group to set the guidelines and practices which serve its members in the most effective way.
What is a critique group?
A critique group is a team of writers and/or illustrators who meet on a regular basis to support and encourage each other to do their best work. They provide insight to a reader or viewer's first impression before you submit to agents and editors. Better than that, they provide insight from the writer’s or artist’s perspective to help you improve the craft of your writing and or illustration.
Why have one?
EVERYONE can benefit from a critique group - whether you are new to writing/illustrating or have been published for years. It is also important to remember that your group needs your perspective as much as you need theirs. Writing for kids and young adults takes a village and our ability to produce quality literature for kids who need it, depends mainly on the support and encouragement of other writers and illustrators.
How do they normally work?
Time: Critique groups meet on a regular basis, which is dependent on the needs of its members. For example, full-time writers often meet weekly while part-time writers generally meet monthly. A writers critique session or "workshop", as they are sometimes, will usually last for 90 minutes to two hours for each session.
Preparation: Members of the group usually read each piece in advance from manuscripts sent by email or Google Docs. Ideally, they prepare written notes to supplement the verbal critique discussion. This provides every writer or illustrator with something they can refer back to when making revisions after the critique.
What do we do at the meeting?
One kind of structure used frequently by writing students is the listening method: First, the readers discuss each piece for a certain amount of time (15 to 30 minutes) while the writer or illustrator takes notes and only listens. This allows the writer to hear the discussion about characters, backstory, or plot. Most importantly, they learn what the readers could discern and what they couldn’t find out by simply reading the text.
Most groups using this method allow for a short Q&A session with the author/illustrator afterward to discuss the points that were mentioned.
How many people are in a critique group?
Groups come in all sizes, but most have 5 to 10 members. Smaller groups allow for more in-depth discussion about each manuscript and/or shorter meetings. However, larger groups often provide more diverse feedback. Group size and meeting length should be considered when determining how much each member can submit for critique. For example, members may be allowed one picture book text, 10 pages of a novel or screenplay, or 2 illustrations. Be sure to set guidelines as a group to avoid overwhelming your members.
What if I want to use another format for my group?
Groups come in every kind. You can create the group you need. Appoint a moderator to keep track of meetings and the guidelines and goals your group sets up. Set up etiquette guidelines to keep things copasetic. A spirit of generosity and welcome is the best way to keep your group going.
How do I critique another person’s writing?!?
Critique always starts with the positive.
Writers need to know the funny parts were funny, the dramatic parts were dramatic, and the heart breaking parts made us cry. They need to know what had energy and what sparkled, what was delightful. This is the most important part of a critique.
Critique writing not the writer.
“I felt the writing really began to get exciting on page four, I really didn’t need the backstory to get into the characters.” Rather than, “You should really cut the first four pages.”
Speak from your own experience.
“My reaction to this character was…” is better than “This part of your story is too drab…”
Instead of saying, “You need to work on the plot,” try to offer a specific way the writer might improve the emotional arc of the story or increase the action.
Bring something new to the discussion.
Instead of repeating what’s already been said, try to find something new to add. Remember you often learn more by critiquing someone else, than by having your own work critiqued.
What do I do while my work is being critiqued?
Let the critiquing run without the writer’s comment.
Write down notes/comments as you listen to the critique of your writing or art, and wait until the end to ask questions or respond --- do not interrupt. Give the group the chance to fully evaluate your manuscript.
Remember your goal:
The goal is a STRONGER manuscript. The group is offering ideas to help make your story or artwork stronger.
Try not to be defensive.
If several readers agree that a scene is confusing, then look at that section again at a later time and evaluate what would be more clear. The impulse to defend can also be a signal that something deeper needs to be communicated on the page.
Understand that every reader is different.
What is confusing to one reader may be perfectly clear to another. Try to relax and remember that other people’s suggestions are just that --- their suggestions. You, the writer, have the final say on any changes you make and why. Take what is useful and leave the rest.