Ten years ago I went looking for writing advice in my community and joined a loose affiliation of novice writers. Over the years, we’ve grown into a dedicated group of eight authors with cumulative publishing credits that include ten books, 24 short stories and numerous awards. Along the way, we’ve helped each other learn the craft of writing, work toward publication and market our work.
Thinking of starting your own critique group? Want to make your group run more effectively or work harder for everyone involved? Here are some tips:
I recommend a “closed” group — one in which new members are only invited because someone leaves. Six to eight people is an ideal size.
It helps to have one person in charge of organizing and chairing the meetings, at least until the group is well established.
There are various ways of running meetings. My group meets once a month, with three stories sent in advance by email and critiqued at each session. In other groups members bring their work to each session and it is read just prior to being critiqued. Whatever system you choose, make sure that everyone is clear on the guidelines and that all members have an opportunity to speak, being sure to give both positive feedback and specific ideas for how to improve the piece. A timer can be useful — in our group everyone gets five minutes to talk about each story.
You know those book clubs that are more about the food and the wine than the books? Don’t make your critique group a dinner club. Try 15 minutes of chat at the beginning of the session and then get down to business, or all business for two hours followed by discussion and social time.
Our group really took off when we began setting a rotation for submissions a few months in advance. Everyone is expected to submit something when it is his/her turn, with a fixed upper word count (ours is 4000 words). If someone can’t make a meeting, they email their critiques to the other writers. Other groups don’t have these expectations, but we needed the added pressure to keep writing.
If meeting in person doesn’t work for you, check www.inkedvoices.com , a source for online critique groups.
Do your critique group members attend seminars and workshops or read articles online and in print? Probably. Everyone in the group can take advantage of that learning — both through explicit sharing of the knowledge acquired and by putting that knowledge into practice through critique. For example, if I attend a session in which the presenter tells me to avoid using adverbs, suddenly (oops, there’s one) I’m seeing adverbs in everybody’s writing. If I explain why not to use them, I’m passing my learning along to all the writers.
Widen your contacts and leads through your group. Share:
= Useful lists, websites and newsletters (I made sure to tell my whole group to sign up for FundsforWriters.)
= Publishers (If I read a book similar to the writing of one of my group members, I’ll mention it to them.)
= Upcoming workshops
Once you are published you can help each other increase sales:
= Commit to promoting your work via email and social media.
= Review each other’s work on Goodreads and Amazon.
= Traveling? Visit local bookstores and talk up your book as well as those of your critique group members.
= Consider holding group launches to reduce costs and increase attendance. If you write in different genres this is a great opportunity to widen your nets.
= Contact local media about your group, or better yet, query them. Get paid to write an article about the success of writers in your area.
= Apply to speak at a writer’s conference as a group.
Critiquing other writers’ work takes time and commitment, but a well-run group can result in a return on investment that brings your writing career to the next level.