Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Get Your Critique Group Rocking!

Why would you want to join a critique group?

  • feedback: feedback is needed from readers, especially ones who write. Their critique can jump you ahead years.
  • reality check: we writers tend to live in our own worlds - a critique group may help you see what needs to be worked on in your ms so readers understand your world better
  • fun: writing is a lonely job. We rarely see others when we are under deadline. A critique group will become your friends, and ones who understand the writing you most of all.

I belong to a SCBWI critique group. We started off with 4 core members. Three of us write novels in the MG/YA ranges. One of us writes and illustrates picture books. And a few of us cross over now and then. 

The typical critique group has a critique head, or a facilitator. She or he keeps a timer running so each member gets an equal amount of time to be heard and critiqued. She or he also keeps the other writers in check. 

We do not have a facilitator in our group. We run it together. One of us sends out a reminder email about our meeting. One of us gets things rolling. One of us times the group, and the other starts the critique. It has worked out great so far, although as more members join, we may need to re-think this.

As a group we have even personalities. That's not to say we don't get upset, or serious at time about our writing. But for the most part we allow each other to be heard. 

When you have a particularly hard personality in your group, this may be difficult. A tough personality, or one that speaks over others, or speaks more than others, can through off the whole group. That's when a strong facilitator is needed. 

How a critique group should run:

  • the facilitator explains the group guidelines to new members
  • each writer takes turns introducing themselves, with genre, and small synopsis if necessary, plus age range
  • the first writer to be critiqued passes out their 2 - 3 pages of work (this may vary depending on your critique group - sometimes my group reads a full chapter up to 9 pages)
  • the person to the right of the writer starts the critique
  • the person doing the critique will start with something positive first, then go to the things that may need work
  • if you are the last person to critique a piece of work, and you believe everything has been said that could be said, please try to come up with something - every little bit helps
  • the writer may not interrupt or answer questions until all critiques are done (this is very important, and a hard rule to follow)
  • critique time limits for an average 5 in a group is between 10-15 minutes each. Facilitator sets the timer.
  • at the end of all critiques, the writer may ask questions - limit it to 5 or the amount of critiquers in the group
  • the writer may not become defensive - critique is to help you see what readers see - not to get you upset that readers don't see what you see
  • the writer will thank the critique group
  • the facilitator moves the group on to the next writer

How a critique group should NOT run:
  • without guidelines - the guidelines, whatever they are, keep the group running smoothly
  • one writer is the only one who gets critiqued, or majority of critique
  • pages should be free of errors, and should not be sloppy, or hand written
  • the writer interrupts each critique with a reason why, or defends the writing with because...
  • the writer gets very angry, or visibly upset (if you can't handle being critiqued, or think your writing is perfect the way it is, do not join a critique group - seriously. I've been in some that have bad seeds and it ruins the whole group.)
  • other critiquers join in the discussion started by the writer defending the work
  • the critiquer goes way over their allotted time - do find the most important things you like and dislike and get to the point
  • the writer asks more that his or her share of questions - everyone is there to be critiqued - do not be a time hog
  • the writer is too upset to thank the group for their efforts
  • the facilitator does not step in when needed - if you are the group facilitator, be aggressive - do not stand by while the group rolls out of control or one writer defends, defends, defends. It's your job to get everyone on the same page.

How to start your own critique group:
  • check out SCBWI (if you're a children's book writer) - they have many lists of other writers wanting to join or start a group
  • check out writers groups online - there are many on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
  • Choose a meeting place - in public - preferably where you feel connected to words - a local library, bookstore, or book cafe.
  • Try to choose a variety of people - this may be difficult, but find young, old, male, female, published, newbie, etc...
  • It is easier if all of you are close in genre. If you write for kids, find other writers who do too. If you are an adult writer, keep with others in that genre.
  • It's also easier if you keep genres similar - my critique group is not a good example as we are very mixed - but if you write YA & MG - it's easier to receive critique and give it if you are all writing in that genre.
  • Be selective: don't just join any group - check them out first to see how they run. If you are starting a new one, check out the other writers. Could you be friends? What's their personality like? Do they seem willing to share information?
  • Do not hold back. Some writers are afraid that someone in their critique group will steal their ideas - never. Every writer's idea, even if it's on the same subject will be different. It's coming from you. No one will or can write like you.
  • Keep your meeting times the same each month or each week. The more you move them around, the more you'll annoy other members and lose them.
  • Be professional. Be sure your work looks good - is sent out on time if you send out early - and is free from errors.
  • Be on time.
  • Come to the session even if you do not have anything to be critiqued. Show courtesy to your members, and a willingness to help.
  • Be polite. Do not forget that this is someones heart and soul you are reading. Don't go at them like a pit bull. A little sugar always helps the medicine go down.
  • Keep your members in the loop. Send out a reminder email about the meeting. If you have good news - share it.
  • Bring food or meet where members can get food - happy bellies = happy critiques

These guidelines will help you to create a happy, healthy critique group. If you have any questions or concerns, or if you are in need of advice for your current critique group, please leave them in the comments section and I will answer you asap. Or email me at the address at the top of this blog.

Good luck! and as always, Write~On
Angie Azur

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