As some of you know, I belong to an awesome writing critique group. So often, our group is asked about how we started and what makes ours so special. I wasn’t around when it was founded back in 1980 by our beloved Eileen Berger (See our website for all the details.), but I’m grateful to be part of it now and hope I can shed some light for any of you who would like to start your own group.
- Find A Space – Since our group is Christian, we meet in local churches. We have members who provide the space for us, but you could ask local churches if they have space. Libraries often will have a small space for cheap or no cost. In addition, I know some groups who meet at places like Panera Bread or other local cafes. If you meet in places like that, be sure to patronize the business and buy lunch or some drinks to pay for your space. Members’ homes could be an option, too, but some new people who don’t know you may not like to come to a stranger’s home. Whatever space you use, be sure to be respectful and put the space back together as it was before you arrived.
- Put Together Guidelines – Is there any kind of literature you don’t wish to critique? Again, our group is Christian so we do not allow any foul language or explicit sexual material. Otherwise, anything goes for our group. You may wish to be solely a poetry group or only fiction, make sure you specify in order to find the right members for your particular group. In addition, we (and most others I know) define how many pages or words can be brought to the critique session. This limits the time spent on any one piece and gives everyone a chance for their work to be read. You can check out all our guidelines here.
- Decide The Structure of Your Group – Our group does not give each other their pieces beforehand. We each bring multiple copies of our piece to the meeting and then each writer gets a turn to have their piece read out loud. The writer never reads their own piece. This gives the writer a chance to hear their piece as it’s written (you’d be surprised how many mistakes are found this way!) After the piece is read, each member will mark their copy with grammar, punctuation or word choice issues and then a short discussion will ensue, asking the writing what was meant or what they intended. We also discuss where the piece is going to be submitted. Suggestions are given. When all the discussion has ended, the pieces, with their marks, are given back to the writer so they can make changes as they see fit once they return home. Some groups distribute the pieces for critique beforehand and members come to group with the already marked up piece. While this seems like it might be also a worthwhile idea, I prefer doing it at the meeting. This way I can directly ask the writer what was intended and the piece is seen organically and without too much overthinking on my part. Check out how other groups structure their meetings and decide what you think will work best for your group.
- Find Members – This seems pretty obvious, right? Well, we’ve had many writers come to us and say, “We can’t find a group!” or “I’ve been searching forever!” If you have a group, but no one is coming, maybe you need to advertise. Get your social media presence going, start a website and post on Facebook about your meeting dates and times. Check with local libraries to see if anyone has inquired about writing groups and leave flyers for future interest. Also, seek out English professors or teachers who could give credibility to your meetings and draw in potential members. If you don’t have any English majors in your group, invest in style manuals and dictionaries for your group to use in order to make sure proper writing technique is being utilized. Advertise in local colleges and schools, ask your kids’ teachers, or ask local radio stations or newspapers for a free plug (as a service to the community sort of thing.)
- Hold Your First Meeting – If you are the founding member of your group, you will be expected to lead. If this intimidates you, find a partner or friend who can assist you. Leading could mean that you start with prayer, or you keep track of the time. Which brings up another good point: Start on time and don’t waste time. Make the best use of every person’s time so that they will want to come again and continue to partake in the group activities. Remember to keep to your guidelines, be constructive (not mean or condescending) in your critique and have fun!
In the end, if you’ve been successful in starting your own group, you will find these new people an invaluable part of your writing career. Our group has had many writing successes and we have several published authors among us. We celebrate each other’s accomplishments and pray for each other during down times. My group has been not only encouraged me, but has also improved my writing and my confidence.
Good luck in your writing endeavors!