“Group Critique.” The words can send shivers down a writer’s spine. Any writer who has been doing group critiques for any amount of time has been through group critiques that have been as pleasant and helpful as getting dental work while delivering a public speech.

How do you ensure your group critique experience is positive? Let’s take a look:

1)      Know what you want and ask for it

Never send an item in for critique simply because it’s time to do critiques. Only submit if you really want help with your work.

In general, doing a line-by-line critique in a group session is not advisable. It demands a lot of time from those who are critiquing, and you may not get the feedback you really need. It’s quite easy to get overwhelmed by too much at once in a group setting.

So ask your fellow participants to focus on a known issue or two that you have. For example, a few potential issues to ask for assistance on are:

Dialogue

  • Point of View
  • Description
  • Realism
  • Flow
  • Show, don’t Tell

 If you don’t yet know the weaknesses of the project, ask a question that invites open, but limited feedback such as, “What did you like best, what is the biggest weakness, and how do I make it better?”

 Your aim in asking for a critique should not be to simply make the section being critiqued better, but to obtain principles that will help you improve as a writer.

 2)      Provide clean copies to the group

 In a group critique, you shouldn’t be critiqued on grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. but it is reasonable to expect you’ve been over your copy a couple times and removed glaring mistakes that would distract your fellow writers from the issue at hand. Doing this shows professionalism and courtesy and sets the mood for a good critique.

 3)      Respect Time and Space Requirements

 Time and space limits are set to make sure everyone has the time to review all the critiqued items and provide thoughtful feedback. So be a professional and follow them. If  manuscripts are to be submitted within a week of the meeting, have your work in well in advance or, at minimum, the day of the deadline, not the day after the deadline. Likewise, if you’re asked to provide eight pages to critique, submit eight pages, not thirty pages.

       4) Remember, you asked for it!

 As you get feedback from your fellow writers, take their opinions into consideration. Ask for clarification if you have a question, but let them provide their feedback.

 Don’t argue or try to correct their understanding of your story for the sake of defending your work. If you do honestly want help better communicating “what it really means” in the book, consider again the time limitations. Otherwise, simply accept that not every book is everyone’s cup of tea and respect that they may not be your audience.

 Take notes and be gracious even if a critique isn’t delivered graciously. Becoming upset over the critique won’t improve their opinion of your book or make you feel better.

Remember, in submitting your manuscript for critique, you do not hand the group control of the book. You don’t have to convince them. You can disregard advice you find unhelpful and accept advice that you do find helpful. Take the meat and throw away the bones. That’s the key to getting the most out of a critique.

Adam Graham is a columnist and President of Idahope Writers.

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