Giving and Receiving Critiques: Consider the Ground Rules
By Natalie Bright
In receiving a critique of your writing, it’s only fair that you’d be expected to give back.
Once you’ve identified several reliable critique partners, set some rules or guidelines to ensure that everyone is in total agreement as to how the critique should proceed. This only makes certain that the process is fair to everyone involved, and that it’s not a waste of your time. I’ve read numerous manuscripts for people, and it’s always nice to hear “send me one of your stories sometime.”
You can learn much about story craft by reading other people’s work, in addition to having them read yours in return.
The Rules Rule
Based on my experience, following are a few basic rules to consider for critique groups:
*Page limit: minimum or maximum number of pages to submit for critique
*Time limits for equal time of discussion
*New or edits: limit submissions to new material only, or can members bring edit? This eliminates the problem of someone bringing the same chapter over and over.
*Determine order of reading, if you meet in person.
*Find something positive, then move into the negative. Identify strengths and weaknesses.
* Group size; do you want to limit the number of members?
My first critique group, that I found through the creative writing course, sadly didn’t stay together for various reasons. Some of us had work and family obligations that made it impossible to attend meetings, and several others moved out of the area. A few of us from the original group met a few more writers through a local writers organization, and we formed a new group about three years ago. Six months ago we started a blog about our publishing journey.
Even though we write in a variety of genres, the commonality is that we are all actively writing and submitting for publication. We stay on task. I come away from every meeting with invaluable critiques.
Here are the rules of Wordsmith Six critique group: we meet every other week, and our meetings usually lasts three to four hours. Due to time constraints, we’ve set a maximum of ten pages each. If we don’t have our own work to read, members bring a general interest article on writing craft or share notes from a recent conference, for example. The key is everyone participates.
We generally restrict readings to new material, however if a piece has had a tough critique, then we’ll look at it a second time after edits. We draw numbers to determine who reads first, and we each read our own work out loud to the group.
Productivity is the Key
This is a biggey rule: we work first, and visit last. Everyone arrives on time, we begin on time, and we get right to business. After the work is done, a few might hang around to discuss character motivation, books we’re reading, or just gabbing about families. The main point is that our writing is the main focus, and the main goal is to keep everyone moving forward.
Members who only bring chips and dip do not make for a productive atmosphere. Everyone understands life is crazy, and some weeks are unbearable as writers. We all know this. Do your critique mates a favor, and become a dependable giver as well as receiver. As you become familiar with each others work, you’ll move beyond basic grammar checks. A magical thing happens when you begin discussing character motivation and plot structure. As you realize the development of your story through others eyes, you’ll be able to edit and polish your work until it shines.
Next week in Part 4, I’ll discuss responsible behavior.