Starting a Critique Group: Six Sagacious Tips

By Tim Pietz, a professional writing student at Taylor University

So, you’re ready for all the wondrous benefits of a critique group! Now, go round up some writers and critique away! That’s all there is to it, right? Well … yes and no.

There’s no “one right way” to do a critique group, but after a few years of trial and error, I’ve found some ways work better than others. Here’s six tips on how to make your critique group a great experience for all involved.

1. Maximize Google Docs

If you read nothing else, read this. Google Docs allows everyone to access and edit the same document at the same time, synced via the internet. Submit on Google Docs a day or two before you meet so everyone can comment on each other’s pieces on their own time. Then, instead of spending half your meeting time reading and waiting for everyone to finish reading, you can go straight to the critiquing and discuss the comments. It’s more efficient, more engaging, and it gives everyone more time to reconsider their initial thoughts. Win-win-win!

2. Characters, Not Commas

One of my biggest mistakes when I started critiquing was haggling over copyediting. Copyediting is not the focus of a critique group. A critique group helps you refine your plot, your characters, your message—the content of your piece. When you see them, highlight suspected grammar errors on the Google Doc, but remember, actual conversation time is better spent on characters than commas.

3. It’s Not Just About Fixing Problems

Perhaps my biggest mistake as an editor was focusing too much on the negatives. Yes, you need to be honest and address issues—that’s an editor’s job—but point out the good, too! Knowing what works is just as important as knowing what doesn’t work. Most importantly, you don’t want to discourage your friends, and balancing corrections with encouragement makes critiquing a better experience for everyone.

4. Take Advice Thoughtfully

An editor isn’t always right. However, just because you don’t like what someone is saying doesn’t mean that person is wrong. This is where critique groups are so helpful. You can get second and third opinions and hear the reasoning behind each one. Make your decision off that reasoning—not just your emotions or peer pressure.

5. Scheduling

You don’t want to sacrifice the quality of critiquing because you’re short on time. You also don’t want to let sessions drag on for three hours. My critique group has made several adjustments to find a balance.

  1. We made a wordcount cap for submissions (ours is 5,000 per person). That way, the group isn’t overwhelmed with reading.
  2. We alternate weeks for submitting to keep things manageable. Half the group submits one week. Half the group submits the next week.
  3. We limited our group size to six people—I strongly suggest aiming for four or five and never more than six. It becomes too chaotic.

Be willing to experiment with what works for your specific group. The rules for my group have changed and developed over time.

6. Leadership and Staying on Track

There will be irrelevant conversations and jokes that distract from critiquing. This is perfectly fine—and fun! The key is to find a balance between being friends and being writers. That’s why it’s helpful to have a leader, an organized person who manages scheduling, establishes rules (like in tip #5), and keeps discussions (mostly) on track. (Since you’ve read this post and are endowed with its wisdom, maybe you should do it.)

I know that’s a lot of info, but I’ve got one more tip: go round up some writers and start critiquing! Experience will teach you a lot more than any blog post. (Even one as sagacious as this.)

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