Here are tips for organizing and conducting your critique groups, providing critiques, and accepting critiques. Next time, in Part 2, I will discuss sustaining a critique group and what to do when it's time to move on.
1) ORGANIZING A CRITIQUE GROUP:
There are many methods for critique group organization. You can participate in groups that meet online or groups that meet in-person. Setting up a group that meets via Skype or Zoom chat room allows for some face-to-face time as well as time to critique offline.
Where can you find critique group members? Try asking about starting a critique group or joining an already existing group in Facebook or Twitter writing groups or chats, ask members of a writing class you may be taking if they want to form a smaller critique group, and inquire at your local SCBWI chapter if they have a method for organizing a group.
It’s important to establish ground rules for your group. Here are some examples of questions to ask: What’s the perfect size for your group? How often can members submit for critique? How does the critique timing work? How often must members critique other people’s work? How many words can make up a submission? Can you submit unlimited revision drafts? What genre will your group critique? What if you write in more than one genre? And what about logistics such as will your group use track changes or email to deliver critiques? If you are meeting in person, other logistical issues will become important to discuss as well.
2) PROVIDING CRITIQUES:
There are many ways to critique another writer's manuscript and sometimes you need to experiment with critique formats. I prefer to always provide comments about what’s working in the manuscript and also about what the challenges are or the places that need extra attention. I do like the “sandwich” method where you offer compliments about what’s working well first, then in the middle you offer three places where the manuscript can be strengthened, and then the final layer of the sandwich is another positive point. Also, as you grow in your critique group, you can better assess which members enjoy “picky” comments and which members benefit from a more gentle approach. It’s also great to discuss commenting style with your group as you are forming the group so everyone has similar expectations for the style of critiquing.
And here are some points to consider when critiquing:
Big picture comments like plot, character development, themes, structure, pacing, logical inconsistencies.
Line edit comments dealing with word choice, grammar, lyrical language, rhyme, typos.
3) ACCEPTING CRITIQUES:
It’s equally important to be able to listen to critiques, take in the comments, and decide if the comments resonate with you and your writing style. Often, where there’s a pattern of the same or similar comments, it’s important to pay attention and think about those comments. As long as everyone is approaching the manuscripts from a place of respect, growth, and kindness, the members of the group can feel safe and confident in the space. Sometimes, when faced with comments that offer viewpoints that contrast with your vision, it's helpful to put the work and the comments away for a few days and come back to the project with fresh eyes. And of course, a writer should always be confident in reading the comments but ultimately incorporating what they like and discarding what doesn't work for them.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 of this post, focusing on sustaining a critique group and what happens when it's time to move on. In the meantime, happy writing and creating!
Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection - Book One: Return to Coney Island and Book Two: The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and 2019); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, 2018). Upcoming releases include Return of the Magic Paintbrush and Sadie’s Shabbat Stories (Clear Fork, 2019). She is also the co-author of The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). Melissa is an Assistant and Blogger for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, a Moderator for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators/MetroNY. Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. Additionally, she is a member of the Board of Trustees at The Hewitt School and at Temple Shaaray Tefila. Melissa lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy.