So as I promised in my last blog…. Here are some of the things I found that were important to having a face-to-face critique group.
*Determine what your critique group is for. Are you only critiquing in one genre? (It really depends on you. I’ve found that multi-genres worked best good for us. But everyone is different.) How many people will be in your group? (I’ve found that three to four is the best, less and there are not enough different ideas. More and it gets real confusing.)
*How often will you meet? This again depends on the schedule of the other people in the group. Once a month worked best for us, but it depends on how much time the members have available to spend, including giving the members enough time to give a deserving critique of the work.
*How much will be critiqued? This again depends on how many times you will meet and how big the group is. At first we worked on full novels. However, it became too much work in one month to do that and still write on our own manuscripts. Finally we settled on one or two chapters per critique session. This allowed the above conditions to be met.
*How will you determine who will be critiqued? We worked out our schedule on a rotation basis. Each of us took a month and stuck to it. The person’s who turn it was the next month to ‘be on the hot seat’, would send everyone else their work via the internet. Then when we met for the monthly critique, we were all ready to go.
*How will the actually critique session go? We would each give our suggestions in turn or ask questions of the person in turn. Usually we all opened our laptops and read down the work together, each interjecting suggestions or things the felt wrong to us. This is probably where I ought to interject that of course put-downs and other was of making each other feel bad is not allowed. We all went into the group knowing that what we brought to the table (literally, we always met in a coffee shop) were just our opinions and suggestions. The writer didn’t have to justify anything to the other writers and didn’t have to take any of our suggestions if they didn’t want to. This will only work if all of the members are professional and mature. Not always possible with some people. Other ways to do this would be to have the critique done only via emails or have the person ‘on the hot seat’ read their work out loud and then the others give their ideas. We found that when problems cropped up, say the scene wasn’t working, as we discussed the scene the group brainstormed and usually could find a solution. But how you do it ultimately must be worked out by the entire group.
*Set a time limit. This was the biggest problem we had. We would meet officially for two hours once a month. We would normally spend three hours or even longer sometimes because we were passionate and wanting to learn from each other. Our spouses didn’t always see it that way!
These are just a few of the rules that worked for us. You may find others work better for you. You have to find your own way. The biggest thing to stress it that everyone must be professional.
Angela Abderhalden is the author of the Mel Addison Mystery Series and Acquiring Editor for Seventh Wave Books, LLC