You can make a session of your writer’s support group productive by keeping some simple rules in mind.
First, your critique group should be limited to one genre, such as poetry, memoir, novel, play or short story.
There should be a leader of your group. Each participant should give the leader unsigned copies of his/her work at the beginning of the meeting that the leader can distribute to others. However, before the group critiques a particular piece, if the writer wants to identify himself, he can verbally do so.
Although critique sessions should usually be limited to two and a half hours, if the group is a novelist’s group, for example, it may be necessary to meet for three hours, with a 10 to 15 minute
break during the session.
Perhaps a group of this kind should be small with six participants maximum. Each session could feature only three members’ work, read aloud and critiqued at about 55 minutes per piece.
Each of the six novelists should be committed members who will show up even when their piece isn’t being critiqued. And, with a novelist’s group, participants should bring one chapter, or if the chapters are too long, perhaps a maximum of ten pages at each session.
If the critique group is a poetry one, perhaps the critique of each poem could last 10 or 15 minutes maximum. The poem could be read aloud twice before the critique begins. If there is time after a first round of critique, members could read a second poem.
No matter what the genre is, before the critique of each piece, you can go around the room and have a particpant read aloud a particular piece. If the writer has identified himself, then he can choose to read his own piece.
Before the critique begins, the leader should ask the group to comment on all the aspects they like about the piece. That is, start out on a positive note.
Next, group members should state the aspects that can be improved upon, such as content, style, and form.
Members who make comments about another’s work should be careful not to alienate fellow members. Refrain from making comments that can be construed as offensive or that can’t be substantiated. For example, don’t state, “This is not a poem, it’s prose.” In this case, keep in mind that experts often disagree on whether a poem is a poem or really prose.
Equally as unproductive, is when critique groups have participants who don’t want to say anything about the need for improvement in a piece, because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’ve dropped out of groups like this because I felt I wasn’t getting any feedback and therefore, wasting my time. I’ve also known others who’ve dropped out of these groups for the same reason.
Further, the leader should keep participants on task, and if someone is wandering in their critique of another’s piece, the leader should politely ask if anyone else has a comment.
At the end of each critique, participants can jot down a few of their personal notes about the piece on the copy they have. They can sign their names to their comments. The copies can be collected by the leader and put in a pile on a table for the writer to pick up after the session has ended.
If members exercise common sense when they’re in a critique group, the sessions are usually worthwhile.
Copyright 2011 by Charlotte Digregorio.