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Critique Group ABCs© 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 get started.

Agree 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.
Brainstorm. 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 book.
Check 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 writer.
Decide if your group wants to read manuscripts aloud or critique hard copy. Each method has its advantages, and some groups choose to do both.
Elaborate. 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."

Find something positive to say. Identifying the author's strengths is just as important as identifying his or her weaknesses.

Give 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.

Have a tape recorder handy to capture productive discussions. Reviewing an interesting discussion at home may inspire new ideas for your revisions.

Include 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.

Jot down notes during the meeting. Suggestions meant for others may be helpful to you, too.

Keep one person from dominating. Every member's opinion should carry equal weight.

Limit 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.

Mark mechanical errors. Spelling and grammar checkers don't catch everything.

Notice improvement. Let your partners know how their writing is progressing over a period of time.

Offer your expertise. If you're particularly good at punctuation, or you have a talent for transitions, share that with your group.
Prepare 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.

Quash negativity. Try not to harbor bad feelings toward other group members, and deliver your comments with tact and respect.

Refrain 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.

Share your weaknesses. If you have areas that you think need work, let your partners know so they can help.

Thank your critique partners for their input. Participation takes time and effort; show your appreciation.

Use 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.
Volunteer 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.

Write your comments legibly. You don't want any late night calls asking for translations.

Xerox or print enough copies for everyone when doing hard copy critiques.

Yield with good grace when you make an honest mistake.

Zoom home and start those revisions after your critique group meetings.