View Full Version : In Person Critique group discussion

03-09-2009, 09:39 PM
I would love to open a discussion on different styles, formats and experiences from in person critique groups. I founded one about a year ago and I want to make sure the members get the most benefit from their time and effort. I use an excellent set of guidelines already (found it here on AW) but I'd love to hear how other groups handle different issues. Such as:
Genre or Subject mater limitation. Is your group open to all genres and subject matter? If so what if a member would rather not critique on a certain subject - how do you ensure that the give and receive remains fair and equal?

Does size matter? ;) Do you have a time limit per critique? Do you have a standard check list that everyone follows or are the critiques specific as per the members' skills?

Feel free to suggest any other topics.
Does your group have membership requirements that ensure a productive and beneficial critique?

03-09-2009, 11:06 PM
I'm part of a writer's group and in the current process of taking over one of the branches. (Basically that means, I need to get used to being in charge and leading the discussions.) So here's what I got for ya.

1. We don't really have a genre/subject matter limitation, seeing as it started off as a writer's group and not a genre group. Will we? Probably not but you never know.

1a. We do have a page limit of 10 pages (if a novel/short story). Anything more is too unwieldy. Of course, it always depends on how many people show up and how many people brought something to be critiqued. If the group stays as big as it has been, that page limit may drop to 5 pages.

2. Yes, I think size does matter. I was in a group where there were 12-15 people and everyone brought something to read. We only had 2 hours each session so I always felt that we were trying to do too much into too short a time period. So in my group, if we have a large group of people with a lot of stories to be worked on, I intend to split the group up into at least 2 smaller groups (of about 5 people each) so that more time can be spent on critiques.

But again, it all depends on what happens at each meeting. We had about 8 or so people at the last month's meeting but only two people brought something to be critiqued. It worked about very well because we could focus on those two stories. We've also spent entire sessions going over the '3 Act Outline' and hammering out one person's plot (mine in this case) because no one actually brought anything that session. And we all were pretty much starting at the same point - the first draft of our WIP's and trying to flesh out our plots. So the best thing to do is be flexible and see what happens each session.

3. The only membership requirements my group has is showing up with an interest in writing and the willingness to talk. Now, granted, this branch has only been around for about one year but so far so good.

03-10-2009, 01:27 AM
Thanks for telling about your group. How does it work for you when you have people giving a critique who are not actively writing or who have never written ?

One unique aspect of ours and it is a mutually agreed upon choice, is that we submit to each member by email 7 days in advance. We spend the meeting time giving the critique from marked up copies. We have a mix of employed and retired people who want the meeting time spent on review. We just went from a page limit to a 2,500 word limit. That we may change also- again we read the submissions before we come to the meeting.
I left it open for the group to limit subject matter- we will see how that goes.

03-10-2009, 11:04 PM
I allow the members who show up to critique, even if they've never written before or don't have anything ready that session. The people who generally come to my branch's meetings so far have all been writers with WIP's in different phases of completion. Some are just starting their first drafts. (I'm currently one of these - I'm working on my first draft of my first WIP that I've been batting around for years.) Some have submitted their works or had them published. So we haven't had anyone who isn't working on something at this point. For the most part, those who stay more than one or two meetings are generally serious about writing. And since we're in a smaller meeting room at the library, it usually takes a little bit of an effort to find us. So we generally don't get the curious passers-by which helps.

As for the critiquing aspect of things, we don't submit prior to meetings because we only meet once a month and we realize that real life sometimes gets in the way of writing. But since we're still a pretty small group (only about 2-4 regulars), it's not so hard dealing with on-the-spot critiques. Then again, we hand out notebooks to all newcomers. (The founder started this habit and I thought it was good enough to continue. Yes, it's an out of pocket expense but it's been helpful, if only to take notes on the critiques we get.) But your way is an interesting take on things. I'll keep that in mind but I'm not sure how well it would work for our group.

And, like I said, we generally play it by ear. One month, it may be one or two people's work, next month it may be four or five, the month after that no-one's ready and we hammer out ideas and go from there. For example, last night was our meeting. The first half hour, we just talked and relaxed a little. But the discussion centered on writing (specifically characterization and writing) then the next hour was critiqueing three out of the four member's WIP's. Sometimes we just jump right into the critiqueing. Sometimes we spend a little time writing.

On the critiqueing, we generally try to point out both the good and the bad - what worked and what didn't work. For example, they thought the scene that I read improved from when I read it last month. But one comment was about the 'voice' of one of the MC's didn't work for one of the people. That's ok because this is only the first draft and by pointing it out, I realized I do need to flesh out the MC's character and motiviations a bit more.

So how does the pre-submissions work for your group?

03-17-2009, 08:10 PM
I like the idea of handing out notebooks!
I have been a series acquisitions editor for 9 years and when I am asked to critique a piece I give it the same attention I would a MS for my publisher- not just an overall reaction but often line by line down to the grammar and sentence structure. That's why and how our hard copy submission tradition started a couple of years ago. Some novices find it a great way to learn writing techniques- to have to make the effort to review a MS in hand and we all respect the time we are giving each other's work.

I expect changes to take place to my little group but we are up to 5 regulars and we meet twice a month- at a little Mexican restaurant where no one speaks English so there are no distracting eavesdroppers.
A few of us want the group to be directed at improvement and have offered resources along with the critiques . Next meeting one such member is bringing writing exercises which I am looking forward to.
I am joining other critique groups around town to keep my skills sharp. I used to only listen to the early members of my own critique group and since resubmitting the same material to these new members I have a completely different set of evaluations. Have you tried that yet?

03-17-2009, 08:37 PM

Great topic!

I've been in a group for the last five years. It was originally format/genre specific, but we've been known to grant special dispensation for those working outside of the group's particular genre.

Our group is limited to ten people (if fewer than five are available, we cancel). We critique two people per session (we meet twice a month at one of the member's houses). If you're not at a meeting, you're expected to submit a written critique for the person whose work you missed (all people present do written and oral critiques). All work is submitted in advance via email. There's no limit on pages, provided it's submitted early enough for folks to have time to read it. Everyone must produce;) Since the group is small, your turn comes up pretty fast and I must say I know it's improved my output. The person being critiqued is not allowed to speak during the critique, but can afterwards (to avoid ye olde justification).

We find it works really well. As far as new members go, you have to submit a writing sample that the group unanimously agrees is indicative of a certain level of skill/commitment. You also have to attend a meeting and let us get to know you/see if you fit with the group prior to acceptance. It sounds much more daunting than it is (I think we've turned away two people in five years, usually because they were looking for a drop-in group to attend occasionally). Once you are accepted, you can't submit for several sessions since we want to make sure you're not planning to get a critique and run.

I don't run the group; we have a great dictator for that. Also, we take turns bringing food, the quality of which is often more harshly criticized than the writing.

grommet (http://www.kathrynmillerhaines.com)

03-18-2009, 12:29 AM
Welcome to the conversation, grommet. Interesting way of running your group, too. Not sure if any of it will work for my group but as of yet, the only people who have become "regulars" so to speak are myself and the founder of the writer's society this branch is a part of. Once we get more regulars, I may have to see how things develop. This branch has only been around for a little over a year so I think people are just now starting to find us.

Talkwrite: when the w/s founder started this branch, we started out with some writing exercises. It didn't last but I know I can get some ideas and exercises from him if people want to go that route. As for resubmitting work, yeah, we've done that. For the most part, I've been bringing my WIP to each meeting and go over scenes where I've been having problems. (Since this is the only WIP I'm working on, currently.) I've heard a couple of WIPs from Craig (the founder) but that's basically because we both have been doing this for the past year. As of yet, we haven't had many other members last more than a couple of months so no one else has resubmitted yet. We'll see about one of the others who have started two months ago.

03-19-2009, 12:04 AM
Hear Hear Grommet;
I am thrilled to hear about your process. Ours, White Oak Writers in Houston Texas ( Shameless plug..) is in its second incarnation- a whole new set of people. It follows the same meet us first rule and from there we have somewhat naturally each been submitting. I have handed out a set of procedures and guidelines that specifies that you don't have to submit but if you are not coming you have to let the other members know so they don't send you their material. Word to the wise- its the little common sense aspects like that which are often ignored. I also see that some novice writers do not want to follow the standard critique commentary procedures and I have heard " It was all right, that's all I have to say" I resubmit the guidelines to them pointing out the importance of showing respect for each others sacrifice of time to read their work and work up some comments by providing the same effort. We will see how that works this Sunday. I am wondering how the issue of too many members will affect us. Do either of you have a set limit that has been tested?

Attendance is not mandatory to ours but we make a habit, if you can not attend, of really making you feel bad about how you just may have ruined our lives. Or worse; our writing.

Dirtsider ( you have to tell me the background of that username) A new member has worked up the exercises so let me see his. But we formed a group for our members on Yahoo groups and are going to post exercises there http://groups.yahoo.com/group/whiteoakwriters (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/whiteoakwriters)

03-19-2009, 01:20 AM
The 13th Precinct writers' group has been around since 1992. (Another shameless plug.) Every person who's been in it for more than about 18 months has had at least one paid publication.

Genre or Subject mater limitation. Is your group open to all genres and subject matter? If so what if a member would rather not critique on a certain subject - how do you ensure that the give and receive remains fair and equal?We are genre-specific, doing only mystery, suspense, and thrillers. We agreed when we formed that those who write romance may not know a quality western when they read it, and that someone well-read in horror may not recognize a stale whodunnit plot. We wanted input only from those who read widely in the genre--which necessarily includes those who write in it.

Occasionally one of our members will write in another genre and seek critique, but there is no obligation for the group to agree to read it. Most often, on the rare occasions this has happened, the work is mainstream rather than another more specific genre. Several times people writing in another genre have arranged for critique from group members outside the group.

Does size matter? ;) Do you have a time limit per critique? Do you have a standard check list that everyone follows or are the critiques specific as per the members' skills?We read our critiques aloud (but never the work being critiqued), with no time limit. The written critique is an overview of the majors strengths and weaknesses and tends to run between 1/2 page and 2 pages, max, so we have never needed a time limit. We do have a rule that the author (and other critics) may not interrupt. Our authors also receive back a paper copy of the manuscript which usually contains a lot of marking-up not mentioned in the critique.

When we began, we shared a mystery-writing checklist, mainly to help us find something to praise in one anothers' early efforts and to reinforce the requirements of the genre. We no longer refer to it, all of the remaining members being quite well-seasoned.

Does your group have membership requirements that ensure a productive and beneficial critique?We do expect every member to do his or her critique(s), nearly always on time. Those who are never prepared to critique tend to drop out before we ask them to leave. We insist that the critique include some positives ("Maryn has punctuated well...") and are limited to the work, never the author, including her basic writing ability and the core concept of a given work. We are careful to note specific flaws in neutral tones. Only today I heard that the adult nature of an essential part of my story would make it inappropriate for what might otherwise be the most likely markets--but nobody said anything like 'this story is too dirty for Ellery Queen oe Alfred Hitchcock.'

Maryn, who left the meeting today inspired to rewrite

03-19-2009, 02:06 AM
When I was in a fiction workshop many years ago, we had a pretty strict rule for how to do the written critique that may be useful for new groups. First, you wrote a one-sentence synopsis of the work being critiqued (and you'd be amazed at how differently each person described a story -- it was pretty useful, especially when everyone in the room saw your story differently from how you'd intended it to be understood). Then,for every criticism you had to include one positive. This got a wee bit pedantic (nice use of commas) but it was a good rule to start with;) The other rule was to never advise the writer how to fix something. That was up to their discretion (don't rewrite their work -- that merely shows them how you'd do it).

Not sure if any of that's helpful, but Maryn's description of her group brought it to mind.

grommet (http://www.kathrynmillerhaines.com)

03-20-2009, 08:14 PM
Thanks so much Maryn- bring on those shameless plugs- I am getting a lot of good tips from all of you.
We initiated rule of a limit of four resubmits of edited manuscripts allowed. That is a result of one member who would resubmit the same ms with one or two words juxtaposed.
We also encourage that members resubmit their edited work and let us know if and when they are submitting a ms that we critiqued to contests, publishers, or agents.