7 Tips for Starting a Critique Group

by Kelly Jarosz, co-founder of the Zurich Writers Workshop

Empty chairs by @libby_ol

A writing critique group meets once or twice monthly to share information, encourage each other and provide feedback on works in progress. If you’re interested in connecting with other writers but can’t find a group that works for you, consider starting your own. The idea may seem daunting, but the tips below will help you get started and avoid the pitfalls that lead some groups to self-destruct.

1. Get organized. Set up a group e-mail system, like an invitation-only Google group, for coordinating meetings and submitting work. A private Facebook group is a good forum for sharing web links and articles while keeping the e-mail group uncluttered.

2. Choose leaders. You only need three or four dedicated writers to get the group off the ground. Designate one as the main coordinator: to set up and manage the e-mail list, send out meeting reminders and be the group’s contact person. Also designate someone to act as time keeper during critiques.

3. Set a place and time. Try out several cafes or community meeting rooms to find one or a few that provide a nice environment for your group. You can start by meeting once per month and move to twice per month if the number of submissions is too much for one meeting.

4. Set submission guidelines. Set a page limit for submissions (10 pages is a good length) and a deadline for submissions to give readers time to prepare thoughtful feedback. Also ask writers to specify their stage in the writing process so readers can tailor their feedback to the writer’s needs. (Example: “This is a first draft, so right now I’m looking for feedback on the big ideas rather than on spelling and grammar.”)

5. Establish a critique structure. Group critiques work best when members start with the strengths of the piece and then explain why specific sections aren’t working. Ask that the writer not speak during critique. Once a piece is published, the writer won’t be there to explain or defend, so the work must speak for itself during critique as well.

6. Institute a trial period. Consider asking prospective members to attend a few meetings before submitting their own work for critique. A trial period shows the time commitment involved and helps everyone determine whether it’s a good fit.

7. Anticipate bumps along the road. You don’t need a rigid set of rules from the beginning, because the group’s needs will change as the membership and work evolve. But it’s good to be aware of issues that will inevitably crop up: How many submissions are allowed per meeting? How big should the group be? What genres and formats is our group open to?

An organized and respectful critique group can provide motivation, information and an invaluable outside perspective on your writing.

If you have further questions about starting a critique group, please send an e-mail to:

zww [at] zurichwritersworkshop.com.

Author: J.J. Marsh

Writer of The Beatrice Stubbs series, founder member of Triskele Books, columnist for Words with JAM magazine, co-curator of The Woolf magazine, Bookmuse reviewer, blogger and Tweeter. @JJMarsh1

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