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?