© 1995 by Robyn Amos
This article may not be reprinted
or distributed without the permission of the author.
If you're considering starting
or joining a new critique group, the following tips will you
to some ground rules. It's important to establish a commitment
to the group up front. More important, agree to confidentiality.
You wouldn't want outsiders snickering at your love scenes
behind your back.
If you haven't started your manuscript yet, that doesn't mean
a critique group is not for you. Critique groups can help
you generate ideas that may motivate you to start and finish
your ego at the door. If you want your writing to improve,
you have to learn to accept constructive criticism. It's nothing
personal, and it doesn't mean you're a bad person, or a bad
if your group wants to read manuscripts aloud or critique
hard copy. Each method has its advantages, and some groups
choose to do both.
Vague comments such as "That scene isn't working"
don't do the author much good. It's more useful to give comments
like "This scene might work better if you cut out some
of the introspection. I get so caught up with his thoughts
that I lose track of the action."
something positive to say. Identifying the author's strengths
is just as important as identifying his or her weaknesses.
your first-read reactions. Let the author know what you're
feeling as you read his or her work. Do you feel sympathetic
toward the heroine? Is the pacing to slow for your taste?
This kind of feedback allows the author to decide if your
reactions are the ones she intended.
a tape recorder handy to capture productive discussions. Reviewing
an interesting discussion at home may inspire new ideas for
a list of questions at the end of your manuscript. This will
give your critique partners the opportunity to focus on the
areas that bother you the most.
down notes during the meeting. Suggestions meant for others
may be helpful to you, too.
one person from dominating. Every member's opinion should
carry equal weight.
the number of manuscript pages that you are willing to read.
Based on group size, set limits that allow you to spend equal
time on each person's work.
mechanical errors. Spelling and grammar checkers don't catch
improvement. Let your partners know how their writing is progressing
over a period of time.
your expertise. If you're particularly good at punctuation,
or you have a talent for transitions, share that with your
for each meeting in advance. If your group agrees on hard
copy critiques, read each person's work before you arrive.
Critique group deadlines can also motivate you to keep up
with your own writing.
negativity. Try not to harbor bad feelings toward other group
members, and deliver your comments with tact and respect.
from defending your work. You could probably explain away
every comment your critique partner comes up with, but you
don't have that option with your editor.
your weaknesses. If you have areas that you think need work,
let your partners know so they can help.
your critique partners for their input. Participation takes
time and effort; show your appreciation.
the suggestions you find helpful, but don't feel bad if you
don't. It's your writing; you don't have to make changes that
make you uncomfortable.
your overall impression. Let the author know what you think
of her work as a whole. If you're looking forward to seeing
more, say so.
your comments legibly. You don't want any late night calls
asking for translations.
or print enough copies for everyone when doing hard copy critiques.
with good grace when you make an honest mistake.
home and start those revisions after your critique group meetings.