One of the best things a writer can do to improve their craft is join a critique group. Yet as an insecure writer, it's scary. While it is a little easier to have critique partners online and hide behind the screen, meeting face to face can send some running for the hills. Looking someone in the eye as they evaluate your work is tough, but if you can push past that initial anxiety, you can learn a lot.
When I first joined my local critique group, I was petrified. I barely said anything the first three or four times. I drank a gallon of water and hoped I wasn't sweating as much. Yet just listening to them, I was amazed at how much I picked up about writing and how they valued my critiques. Every meeting, I grew a little more confident about speaking, and these days, I let my critiques flow freely as we discuss each story.
It's vital to remember these groups are built on trust and respect. People submitting their stories are trusting the group to be honest and helpful. As we evaluate them, we must respect that. This is why everyone should follow critique group etiquette.
Here are four tips to help critique group participants mind their manners:
1) When receiving a critique, sit back and make notes. Don't interrupt. The person has taken the time to read and evaluate your work. Listen attentively and save your questions or comments until later. You may not agree with everything they say, and that's okay, but hopefully it will help you see your story in a different way.
2) Don't be defensive. Writers can be fiercely protective of their work. I've personally seen it get ugly, but it helps no one when you react that way. Remember everyone joined the group to grow in their craft and to support others. You don't have to agree with a person's critique, but the important part is that you listened.
3) When giving a critique, point out the good and bad. Writers need to know what they're doing right as well as what is wrong. A constructive critique will encourage a person grow while a destructive one will break them down and ruin the trust in the group.
4) You are giving a critique on the writing not the writer. Don't comment on the person's skills. Focus on giving honest feedback of the story with specific explanations and suggestions. Mind your language as you do so. The difference between "your protagonist has no depth" and "more layers can be added to this character by doing this and this" is huge.
Every critique group is structured differently, but all of them need to follow the basics of etiquette. With trust and respect, and a good dose of encouragement, we can nurture each other and our stories.
Do you belong to a critique group? Do you have any etiquette tips to add?
I joined my first critique group about a year and a half ago, and it's been fantastic. We do follow most of these guidelines, but we are guilty of the occasional interruption. But never to argue. Only to seek clarification on comments and suggestions.
This is a very interesting post. I have never been a part of such a group. But reading the post makes me want to try it once. The guidelines seem different . Thanks for posting about it.
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Those are good. Telling someone something sucks doesn't help anyone. Critique needs to be specific and helpful.
Great tips. So many people are defensive. I used to be like that too but now am so much more open to listening and taking it all in.
Such a good point, Christine, about how we present the critique, including the positive and the negative, and being aware of the language we use. I've heard a lot about using the "sandwich" method - put the constructive criticism between two slices of positive feedback. :)
M.J., my critique group does have the occasional interruption too. Sometimes some of us do ramble, and it's good to have clarification.
Katie, you're welcome. Hopefully you'll get to join a group soon.
Alex, exactly. We need to be constructive.
Natalie, I used to be defensive too, but silently so. Now I'm much more open to suggestions and change.
Madeline, we use the sandwich method too. :)
Focusing on the writing sure is the way. And using good and bad makes it seem like less of an attack to those that may see it that way.
Hi Christine -I'm not part of a critique group ... but I've learnt to be positive in general life ... so many are down, or critical - so I always try and be positive and if it turns negative ... I leave.
But I like the idea of putting two slices of positive and then lightly slipping in the negative in the middle - easing a note in ... nothing serious -just something for them to think about -could be applied to so many things ... cheers Hilary
Pat, yes, it definitely eases the hackles of a defensive writer.
Hilary, that it can! I try to do that very thing.
All good advice. I'd like to add another: Before asking others to read your work, clean it up! Sure, it's a work in progress, and a few errors will always escape our notice, but we should at least check for missing words and punctuation, confusing word choice, and other issues that will make it difficult for readers to understand our story--because isn't story what it's all about?
Great tips! I second the use of the "sandwich method". If you offer two positive comments to every negative one, the author is much more likely to accept the negative one and not feel assaulted by it.
I'm also a big believer in the sandwich method.
My only experience with a writer's group wasn't great. Half of them were English teachers/college teachers and they were not balanced or kind.
Rhonda, good tip. I always go through my stories at least three times before they get sent in to the critique group. Yet they are kind if I do miss something!
Anne, very true. Plus we do need to hear what's going right in our stories.
Diane, strange that my one experience in the critique group with a temporary member who was an English teacher wasn't that great either.
I was part of one but it got too big. Too many opinions and too much to read. I prefer a smaller group now. And some groups really need the etiquette lesson.
All good points! My only critique experience was in college. It was uncomfortable at first, but I grew to really like it, actually, and overall, I think it helped me grow, as well as helped me give feedback as a beta reader later on. I don't know if I would do it now, but I'm glad they exist.
Great tips! The part about pointing out the good and the bad really resonated with me. I've seen people give critiques that were full of nothing but negatives before, and I can just imagine how crushing that is to someone on the receiving end of that...
I am in a small critique group that broke off from a much larger group six-years- ago. My partners have become life-long friends and the fiercest supporters. But most importantly they are honest with me and I am honest with them.
Finding the right group isn't easy but it is so worth it.
Susan, I agree if it's too big, it gets too much. Smaller is better.
Krystal, that's great. My group has definitely helped me grow.
Heather, I've received some horrible critiques from editors before, and I wonder how they think they are really helping.
Doreen, that's awesome! I was lucky to find the group I did.
I never thought about the fact that a group like this might just exist. I guess that's part of the reason I utilize the blog: to receive critiques. I need to look for one.
Robert, if you can find a good group, it will be well worth your while. Good luck!
What excellent tips, Christine! I do not belong to a group because I've been traveling a lot, and I don't like to join something when I know I'll be absent a lot. But I've bookmarked your tips for future reference. Have a good one!
As a long-time writer who's enjoyed the benefit *cough*kicked out*cough* of many critique groups, I can say these tips are spot on. Thanks for sharing.
Fundy, thank you! I'm the same way. Hopefully you have some great CPs online. :)
Respect, open-mindedness. These are important.
I haven't found a group that works for me yet, but I keep trying. These are great tips.
Lux, that they are!
Amen to all the etiquette tips, Christine. You need a group and you need a group that you can depend on and trust. The only way to achieve that is to apply what you've suggested.
Really good tips, Christine.
Tact is so important.
I've heard many authors say that the most important thing for a writer, is finding a group that's the right fit for you, as an individual.
I've never participated in a critique group. I'll be joining a local writer's group with MJ, and they do critiques, but I don't think I have the guts to let them critique my own work. I think I'd also be very nervous critiquing someone face-to-face.
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