I’ve written before about the importance of critique groups and how to find one. But what if you haven’t found a critique group that’s a good fit for you and your work? There is another option: form your own! If you just haven’t found critique partners that work for you, or if you want to gather your friends into a group, here are my tips for forming your own.
- Find members
The obvious first step, of course, is to find writers to join your group. If you don’t already have anyone in mind, that’s okay—there are plenty of places where writers go to connect. Conferences in your area, for example, are a great place to meet local writers. Libraries, bookstores, writing programs, local NaNoWriMo meet-ups, and book signings are other great places to meet writers in your area.
If you plan to start an online group, you have even more potential options. Social media is a great place to connect with other writers, as well as the many writers’ communities you can join online. There are also great forums, like Absolute Write. And NaNoWriMo participants can chat with other participants through NaNo’s forums!
- Determine a schedule and format
It’s important to be as clear as possible upfront about what kind of group you’re wanting to form, how much and how frequently writers will need to commit to it, and what your expectations for members are. If you already know in advance what you want to do—say, a once-a-month meetup to swap one chapter each—you can advertise that to writers who are interested in joining the group. But if you don’t know ahead of time what you want to do, consider setting up an online survey and asking members for their preferences. It’s easy to set up a quick Google form or survey and ask a few questions of each member. Some things to consider: how often you want to meet, how much material to share at each meetup, how many members will share material at each meeting, how much feedback everyone will be expected to provide, the format of said feedback, and how to handle adding new members to the group.
- Be clear about critique guidelines
Make sure that all group members are clear about how they’re expected to give and receive feedback. Do you want everyone in the group to be as honest as possible? Do you want to establish rules about kindness in critiques? For example, maybe you want to ask members to use the “sandwich” technique—sharing one thing about the manuscript that’s working well, followed by a suggestion for improvement, followed by another thing that’s working well. Or maybe you don’t want any such restrictions on feedback. Whatever you choose, make sure that all group members are on board and aware of the expectations for conduct.
Also, consider what the rules for receiving feedback might be. Are writers allowed to speak while someone else is giving them critique? Are they allowed to respond afterward? Or do you want members to listen silently and take notes? Again, make sure everyone in the group is aware of the requirements and willing to follow them.
- Start submitting work
After your group decides how it wants to run, it’s time to start submitting work! But it’s a good idea to start with a brief practice run, to make sure that everything is working smoothly and everyone is on board with the requirements. Even if you’ve agreed to swap lengthier portions of manuscripts, it might be a good idea to start your first meeting with much shorter excerpts—say, one chapter, or five pages. That way you can quickly determine if anything isn’t working, and members won’t have to put in a ton of time and effort only to learn that there’s a problem or that someone wants to leave the group.
Now that you’ve had a practice run, it’s time to evaluate how things went. What’s working, and what isn’t? What can you do to improve the group? You might want to devote some time to your next meeting to discuss format changes, or perhaps send another survey around to group members to ask for their feedback. If you hope to build long-term relationships and a successful group, it’s important to consider everyone’s needs and keep everything running smoothly.
What do you think? Have you ever run a critique group? Have you joined one? What are some tips for critique groups I missed? Let me know in the comments!
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