I believe critique groups are important for writers. Not only does it give you a chance to socialize with other writers, but it also gives you a chance to sharpen your writing skills. Whether it is receiving feedback or giving feedback, there is a great opportunity to become a better writer with these groups.
But like any other social gathering, there are some rules to follow, or else things won’t work out the way you’d like it. You may even see yourself removed from the group and you’d have to search for a critique group all over again. So this posting is about how to avoid that. As someone who was both a member and an organizer of writers critique groups on meetup.com, I have here some tips on how to survive and have a good experience.
DO keep your ego at the door.
You may have a book deal or have your self-published books on Kindle or Smashwords. You’ve been told you write pretty well and your story is good. You may think you are a genius.
Guess what: no one in writing groups really care.
Sure, they may be impressed with whatever success you’ve had, but that would last for a few minutes. After that, you are all writers together. You are all assembled to critique each others’ works to help each other improve. No one is going to worship your ego and your writings. They’re not going to give you the constructive criticism you want – they’re going to give you what they think you need. If none of this is what you want, not only are you in the wrong group, but you don’t understand what a critique group is all about.
DO be friendly and respectful to your fellow writers.
It’s human nature to take the advice of someone who is friendly toward everyone else. I don’t know too many people who will take the advice of someone who is cold and hostile to others. When I ran my writers’ group, I had a member who wasn’t too friendly during meetings and it was hard for me to accept his critique of my work. During one meeting, he spent most of the time sitting with his arms folded stifly across his chest, torso and chin erect like he was ready for a fight. That irritated me and I chose to pay no attention to his suggestions. It took me a long time to consider that he probably had a point, but because of his demeanor, I refused to think about what he had to say.
DON’T say anything if you haven’t got anything nice to say.
I know that saying is considered to be old-fashioned these days, but its true. If all you focus on is the negativity, then I don’t see you lasting too long in a group. Yes, if there’s something wrong and even very wrong with someone’s piece, point it out. But tell them what you thought was good and what you liked about their work. Critique groups are supposed to be support groups to make people better writers. Tearing someone down for whatever reason does not make a good experience for a lot of people.
DON’T expect the organizer to bend their criteria for your sake.
If you are a poet and looking to join a poetry group, then find that. It doesn’t make any sense to join a fiction writing group and complain that they don’t accept any poetry. If the description says “fiction writing” then it is as clear as day you are not in the right group. And don’t even try to trick the organizer into making room for you. Seriously, who do think you are?
DO follow the rules the organizer has laid out plainly for you.
If you say you are going to attend the next meeting, go. If for some reason you are unable to make it, contact the organizer to explain why. It is very rude to simply not show up. This happened a lot when I was an organizer and it was very upsetting. Organizers of such groups do not arrange meetings for the hell of it and expect members to take the group as seriously as they do. If you are really not that interested in writing or being part of a critique group, then leave and don’t waste anyone’s time. Also, if the rules are to submit no more than 10 pages and you repeatedly submit 20, I would think you are asking to be removed.
DO give thorough critiques.
If all you are saying is, “This was good. Just fix your grammar mistakes, explain what’s going on in this scene a bit more, and you’re good”, then I’m afraid you are not contributing to the group enough. Plunge into each work submitted and go in-depth as you analyze and look it over. Most writers love it when they’re given such constructive criticism because it makes them better. Many have deep questions about their skills or whether their character is likable or realistic enough, and if those questions are vaguely answered, those writers may feel lost and uncertain about their work. So think deeply and don’t hold back – but don’t be nasty either 🙂
So there are the most important rules I think are needed to survive a writers critique group. If anyone would like to add more, feel free to do so!
Also, check out my follow-up to this post: The Do’s and Dont’s of Running a Writer’s Group