29 Nov 2020

Writing Critique Groups are an Essential Tool for Authors

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Make a Living as a Professional Self-Published AuthorWriting critique groups are a great way to improve your writing skills without spending any (or at least not much) money. Most, if not all writers, can use a little help from their peers to improve their skills. The advantage of these groups is they are generally a non-threatening group of people who genuinely want to help.

How does it work?

  • Find a group using a website such as meetup.com.
  • Some of them require a small fee either per meeting or periodically (once a month is common) but most are free of charge. Usually they will allow a guest to visit once or twice without paying to check them out and see how they work.
  • Bring along a few pages of something you want critiqued.
  • Each person attending reads and the others in the group provide feedback on the writing.

Most of these groups are small (six to a dozen people) although some have as many as 20 or even 40 people. I prefer the smaller groups because in the larger groups it tends to be rushed to allow everyone to read.

Sometimes a group requests that everyone send out their writing in advance so people have a chance to read it before the meeting. It all depends on the desires of the group owners.

Most of all, have fun, don’t take it that seriously, and be prepared to get some good critique.

Guidelines for Writing Critique Groups

Provide constructive criticism in a supportive, compassionate manner. Writes invest a lot into their work, and it takes courage to read it in front of several peers, inviting their critique. They came to the meeting because they want to become better writers, so show them respect and give them honest help.

Things you should do when critiquing another writers works.

  • Don’t critique the writer. Your job in these meetings is to give constructive feedback on the writing.
  • Begin your evaluation with a few compliments. Find one or two things you liked. If something was especially good, mention it and explain why.
  • Give specific critique, not vague and general comments.
  • Be gentle in your comments.
  • Be supportive.
  • Even if the writing is terrible, find a few good points and mention them first.

Writing Critique Groups are a great way to improve your skillsOn the other hand, there are things you should avoid.

  • Generally, it is better to critique style, characters, flow, plots and so forth. Grammar and spelling critique, unless it’s very noticeable, is not needed because it should be assumed the writer will spell and grammar check and, if their are going to publish or submit the work, send it to a proofreader.
  • Don’t waste time on the minutiae. Focus on the bigger picture.
  • Don’t ramble or belabor the point.
  • Do not make insulting remarks.
  • Be quick and concise. Everyone wants a chance to read.
  • Don’t argue.
  • Don’t insult the writer.

Things you should think about as the work is being read:

  • How do yo critique writing?For fiction:
    • Are the characters consistent?
    • Do the background details make sense?
    • Is the plot concise?
    • Did you get lost?
    • Can you envision the scene?
    • Can you follow the plot?
    • Is it predictable or trite?
    • And so on.
  • For non-fiction:
    • Is the topic clear?
    • Is it explained well?
    • Are citations included?
    • Did you understand the material?
    • Are technical terms explained in a clear manner?

For those being critiqued, remember the following points.

  • Don’t take it personal.
  • Do not argue with the person doing the critique.
  • Just accept what’s being said. Don’t try to explain in most cases. You are supposed to be receiving critique, not defending yourself.
  • Remember you don’t have to accept the suggestions.
  • Have fun. Everyone is there to help you make your writing better.

A Note About Ghostwritten Works and Writing Critique Groups

Ghostwriters should never read their ghostwritten material at writing critique groups (or anywhere else in public as well) unless permission has been received from the client.

This is a pet peeve of mine. In one critique group, a ghostwriter would read his ghostwritten work to the group. This always seemed odd because the ghostwriting is highly confidential. Usually this is enforced by a contract.

It is a severe ethics violation for a ghostwriter to read his ghostwritten material in public without permission. if you see this happening, you know that ghostwriter cannot be trusted.

A ghostwriter who breaches confidentiality without your knowledge is not a professional. 11 Things Your Ghostwriter Doesn’t Want You to Know, Sam Tamlyn

Starting a Writing Critique Group

If you can’t find a writing critique group near you, or you want one that is more specific to your needs, you can always get a group together and create one yourself. Meetup.Com is an excellent platform and works well for critique groups. Note, however, it is expensive (over $100 a year) to host your own group on this platform.

The advantage of meetup.com is the site actively promotes your group among all meetup members in your local area. This means you don’t have to do the promotion and advertising yourself.

I used the Meetup site to create my own Science Fiction themed critique group. it took about 6 months to gather a group of about 1 dozen people together. Once we had the group going, I canceled the Meetup on meetup.com as, since we met every week, there was no reason to continue paying for it.

Conclusions

If you want to improve your writing skills in a relaxed, non-competitive and low-cost environment, than writing critique groups may be just the ticket. Check out a few groups and find one or two that you like. I think you’ll be happy with the results.

 

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