Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Top 10 Tips for a Great Critique Group

My fellow Paper Waiters and I put our heads together and came up with these top tips that have helped keep our critique group running smoothly for the past 12 years.

1. Go positive before going negative. Any critique should begin with positive words about what worked and what the critiquer especially liked. Present praise before you make revision suggestions or comment about what you think needs improvement.

2. Show respect for a person's work. Giving a critique is not supposed to be hurtful but helpful. Treat it as you would treat your own work.

3. The writer should stay silent during the critiques. Don't openly defend your work as it's being critiqued, wait until you've heard everything before responding and asking questions. It takes a lot of time to give a proper critique and whether you agree with it or not, you should at least give the critiquer the chance to get their point across.

4. Members should be expected to produce material to critique on a timely basis. This may mean submitting an earlier work or a short piece if a current, long manuscript is not critique-ready. There should be at least one piece per hour of the session, unless the piece is an entire or partial novel. Having material to critique keeps group members on their toes and producing.

5. Authors should ask for specific points to be mentioned in the critique. If they don't want specific feedback, critiquers should follow the basic points: Plot, character, setting and description, and point of view. Critiques should be limited to ten minutes per person, with time left for the author to ask questions or explain objectives and for critiquers to elaborate or disagree with other critiquers.

6. Critiques should be given to the writer in a timely fashion. It is expected that critique group members will occasionally miss meetings, but every effort should be made to get the critiques to the writer in a timely manner. Even if you have to pay to snail mail it, it's your responsibility to get it to the author.

7. Take the critiques of your work home and review them the same day, if possible. Rereading and rethinking all of the notes you've received will give you a clear idea of the ones that really stand out, and will crystallize for you what work needs to be done.

8. Make sure your fellow critique group members know the genre you're writing in well. It's no fun to be part of a group with people who write mostly for adults, who listen to your children's writing and say only, "How cute." Ugh! What an insult! Also, you need to be able to trust that your critique group members are leading you in a more publishable direction with their critiques.

9. If you have a bunch of critique group members who are always telling you that everything you write is perfect, RUN! While it may be possible that your first drafts are perfect, this is highly unlikely. You really want to surround yourself with critique group members who know how to give substantive critiques that let you know where your manuscript can be improved. This is a very good thing once you develop a tough enough skin to take it!

10. Make a master containing all of your critique group member’s comments before you start revising your manuscript. When you get ten critiqued copies of your work, some comments are bound to contradict each other. Or you could make a deletion or change based on reading one member’s critique, only to find a better suggestion for improvement from another member. To streamline the revision process—and keep your sanity!—make a master copy with everyone’s corrections, color-coded by member, before you revise, so you can see everyone’s comments at once when you dive into your next draft.

Paper Waiters, do any other top tips come to mind? Blogging buddies, what are your critique group's top tips? We'd love to hear about them.


  1. Bribing fellow members with sweets like a box of Munchkins always helps.

    It's also useful to have a sense of humor, a thick skin and a box of tissues. Not necessarily in that order.

    Oh yeah, and don't move out of state.

  2. Great advice! I belong to an online critique group rather than an in-person group, but many of your tips fit. Regarding tip number 7, I read notes quickly but then I find it's best for me to wait a few days before I "seriously" review what people have said. That helps me avoid quick ego reactions, like, "Obviously, she just doesn't know my character as well as I do! Hmph!" I need some distance from criticism (even if constructive) to see it most objectively.

  3. Robin, so that's why you brought in Munchkins that day. It's hardly necessary--your mss. generally rock!

    MG, I also need some distance before I read critiques, say a week or two.

  4. Great post! Sense of humor vitally important, and empathy! Also, the ability to recognize that this is first draft and better to hear from your crit group than the potential editor! We have a lot of laughs in our group and I find the varied opinions so valuable. A writer's best tool!

  5. Jeannine: I love your comment about it being better to hear from your critique group than an editor on your first draft. I never thought of it that way...but it's a great point!

    p.s. Your critique group sounds like a hoot.

  6. Hi all - back again. Thought your post was so good, I made it my blog entry for today. Sending more traffic your way. Thanks again for the great summary!