Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Nancy: Critique Groups

I am so lucky. That’s what I say to myself every time I leave my critique group. I did not have a crit group when I first became published. In fact, I didn’t have a crit group for my first few books. It worked. At least I thought it worked. Now I could not think of working without them. They offer me sound writing advice, both on the page and off the page. I trust them. That’s the most important thing of any working critique group – trust. You have to be able to open yourself up for criticism and that can always be tough, but you also trust them to be those early readers who will not run off with your idea or squelch it in its early form.

Now down to basics. Here’s the mechanics of our group. We meet in a library study room. Each member takes a turn hosting the meeting. The host reserves the space, provides a very light snack (remembering food is not allowed in the library), and keeps track of the time during our meeting. The host also sends an email out with meeting information for everyone to respond whether they are coming and if they are reading.

There are seven people in my regular monthly critique group, WOW, Writers on Wednesdays. We begin our meeting with short news about ourselves pertaining to our writing. We then choose cards to see who reads first and then proceed in order. Each reader is allowed to present five pages to the group, but can choose not to read and instead discuss any writing issues. Copies of those five pages are handed out to everyone and the author reads aloud while everyone writes notes on their copies. After the selection is read, we go around the table with comments on the body of the work. Each member hands the copies back to the author with their comments.

We leave the meeting with fresh energy to revise and inspiration to proceed. More than once I've been so excited about my manuscript that I’ve had to pull my car over and jot down an idea.

Writing groups, whether online or in person, help improve your own writing and your writing habits. Just knowing you have a monthly meeting looming ahead helps to spur along your writing. It brings you into a community...and don't we all need that?


  1. I am lucky enough to participate in two different peer critique groups and agree completely about the valuable feedback given from my fellow writers. It’s also great to hear others’ perspective, share experiences, and make supportive connections with others going through the same process.

    Nancy, the active sharing of a piece during the meeting is a different format than I’ve used. I love the idea of hearing the author read his/her work aloud and being able to respond on my own copy simultaneously. (Mostly just because I love being read to; apparently I’ve never outgrown story time at the library!) I’ll have to suggest this in my groups and give it a try. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Tiffany, I must tell you that as an author it is a great opportunity to read your work to fellow writers. I always catch things I might otherwise miss when I'm at my computer. Of course, the downside is that you can get up in the author's voice - that's why it is important to have a copy of the manuscript in front of you. Thanks for your comment!

  3. I am in one called The Calliope Circle - love it and love them

  4. I am in one as well--we're celebrating 5 years together this weekend with a slumber party/writing retreat. Working with them is the best thing I can do for myself as a writer. As to format, we submit (up to 20 pgs) ahead of time, then are critiqued the night of the meeting. We meet every other Wednesday. We need to add in the reading aloud part.

    Everyone needs a critique group! Thanks for the great post.

  5. I agree Nancy, you are lucky! I've never been in a group that meets in person, only on-line groups. I'd like to try it sometime.