Signs of a Good Critique Group

Whenever a term ends, my students talk about ways to stay motivated outside of a class structure. After 10 weeks, the students have built a level of trust in work shopping their work, and they’re usually eager to continue receiving quality feedback. So they organize critique groups which meet outside of class.
Writing Tip for Today: My in-class guidelines are simple and easy to incorporate into an independent group. We focus first on what we loved or thought worked, then we mention places where there’s confusion, too much or not enough info and end with some sort of positive. It’s called “The Sandwich Approach,” and it works. Here are some other guidelines that will help your group be healthy, happy and productive:

  • Just Write! All members commit to regular production and work shopping their work. If only a few writers read each time, the group may not be functioning at its best. Remember, you join a group not only to get feedback, but also to give it.
  • Da Rules. A good group has some basic rules, such as being on time, keeping chit-chat to a minimum and not cross talking during another’s crit.
  • Leaders Lead. If you feel that the group needs a leader, one way to do this is to appoint a different moderator each session. The moderator can decide in what order pieces are read, (I favor shortest to longest), be the time keeper (limit crits to say 3 minutes each) and if necessary, intervene when mayhem breaks out. If members are shouting, it’s time to intervene.
  • Start Where You Are. If you’re a novice, start where you are. You’re already a reader, so if nothing else you can talk about what “worked for you” (kept your interest) and what didn’t. Later, you’ll learn the fancier tricks–rearranging, addressing structural problems, or raising the stakes.
  • Decide on Format and Word Count. Some groups prefer to hand out the selections in advance and then meet only to talk about the work, instead of actually hearing the work. This is OK, but consider that our best intentions to “go over” a piece in advance of group may fall short. And reading aloud does seem to showcase errors betters than silent reading. Whatever you decide, set word count limits. You won’t get very far if members insist on presenting 10,000 words each session. A good goal might be 5-10 double-spaced pages, depending on time constraints.
  • Encourage one Another. This goes without saying, but unfortunately some groups are more like competitions, where writers “perform” and then expect applause. While jealousy is natural, try to remember that one writer’s good fortune is good for us all. It means someone is still publishing. And if we use the Sandwich Approach, our egos may remain intact too.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

4 comments on “Signs of a Good Critique Group

  1. Our group started two years ago after your class. We continue to meet 2X a month, have taken a weekend writing vacation together at the coast and continue to support each other.

    With practice, some ground rules, trust, and honesty, we have all become better writers and constructive critiques.

  2. I would add that you need to remember not to argue about the feedback. You can ask for more information, you can discuss options to fix something, but arguing is disrespectful.

    I belong to a writing group that has lively discussions about why something isn’t working, and it is the best feedback.

  3. Absolutely! If you receive a crit that ruffles your feathers, smile and say “Thanks.” Let the advice cool off a while. Then decide if it’s useful or not. If you agree that the crit was spot on, change your mss. If not, toss it. A lot of critiqueing is an art, not a science. Write on! ~Linda

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