quill pen in ink potEver since we listed The Serivilous Panerians on the FWA website, I’ve been getting messages from the beyond.  Ethereal voices asking when and where we meet, how our group works and, most importantly, if we have room for one more. (We don’t. The SPs are currently a closed group. Sorry.) So, recently I asked Vic Digenti if he thought that a class on creating and maintaining a critique group would be well received. He said if we decided to host one, he’d be happy to help us advertise.

So I presented the idea to the other SPs. They were very encouraging, though one member did mention that she doesn’t want to lead a group and she doesn’t want ours to change. That’s acceptable since I think our group works well as it is and I don’t want it to change either. But it got me thinking; what are the guidelines for a good critique group?

Here’s the shortlist of what I came up with:

  1. Set deadlines and make them stick. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, is busy. It isn’t fair to expect group members to drop everything and attend to pages sent in the day of the meeting. It may not even be possible. Respect for each other’s time is a must and should be a high priority for all members.
  2. Know your limitations. Critique groups are most useful when all members have their work commented on at every meeting. This means that to be truly helpful, you’ll need to limit the number of members you accept.
  3. Meet as often as is feasible for the majority of the group. The more often you meet, the easier it will be for group members to keep track of the disparate plot lines and give informed feedback.
  4. Choose a meeting place that is as centrally located as possible. Keeping the driving distance reasonable will encourage participation.
  5. Insist on honest civility. Critiquing is like life saving surgery – the goal should be to cut the dead tissue while keeping the blood letting to a minimum. Anyone who cannot be both truthful AND kind does not belong in a critique group.
  6. Encourage members to be flexible. Stuff happens to all of us that delays, sidetracks, or blocks us. If our fellow members are understanding, and if we don’t take advantage of that understanding, the camaraderie and congeniality necessary for a good group can be maintained.

There is a lot more that goes into founding and maintaining a good writers group than can be listed here. I’d love to hear your comments on any areas you feel I’ve missed. Meanwhile, if you aren’t in a group, think about starting one – and happy writing.

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