When a writing friend approached me with the idea that we should start a critique group, I was reluctant. I didn’t feel I could afford to take time away from my work.
"You can’t afford not to," she countered. "We need to work with people who share our goals and aspirations." She was right and I have never regretted my decision to help form our group 15 years ago.
Our critique group has proven to be one of my most valuable writing tools and has helped me to produce gratifying, saleable work. Not only that, since I work at home in a solitary environment, my critique group brings me important social contacts with others who share my professional interests, people from whom I gain inspiration and confirmation that my work is important.
It didn’t take long to find other dedicated writers also looking for ways to improve their writing skills. We soon had a strong, workable group, meeting three intense hours every Wednesday in a meeting room at our local library, which offers a neutral, business-like environment. Several of us get together beforehand for lunch so that we can get the chatting out of our systems because once the meeting begins, we hold a fifteen-minute period for announcements then get right to business.
We have no permanent leader in our critique group but rotate that responsibility each month. That month’s leader passes an attendance sheet around and each member indicates whether or not she has brought work to read. One of our members designed a simple matrix, a good tool to use to determine how much time each person has to read, based on the number of readers present.
We limit group membership to ten so that everyone has a chance to share her work each time we meet. In our tightly knit group, potential new membership is taken very seriously. After first submitting a sample of her work for our initial approval, newcomers must attend three meetings as invited guests and fully participate in the critiquing process. A unanimous vote is required before a new member is invited to join the group. Yes, unanimous. We’ve all heard horror stories about how one member can ruin a critique group. We make every effort to see that it doesn’t happen to us.
Care is taken to critique the work, not the author, subject matter or style of the work. In other words, if a member writes a piece on a sensitive topic, such as abortion, we do not discuss the issues of abortion per se, but rather, did the writer state her case clearly? We strive to point out the strengths along with suggestions for what might make the writing clearer and more powerful. Is the story compelling? Can the facts be verified?
On my next Blog, I’ll discuss a valuable feature of our Critique Group–our By-laws. I invite you to share your thoughts and experiences on critique groups in "Comments."