Monday, September 21, 2015

Running a Critique Group for Writers

In the last blog I showed how to start your own critique group, for free (and your "free" time), at your local library. Let's talk about its components and your role.

Your role is to facilitate and educate. You need a few rules to guide the session because you'll have limited time in a 2 or 3-hour group. Depending on the number of pieces to be read, the main goal is to give everyone an equal chance to share and receive feedback. And, when time allows, to share your piece. As a general rule, I limit pieces to 12-1500 words or fewer, which takes10 minutes, and then 10 minutes more for feedback. 

Here's my basic rules, which are flexibly applied and interchangeable (definitely NOT rigid questions):
1. If not obvious, ask "How did the piece resonate with you? Did it reach your mind as well as heart? 
2. Did it hold your interest? Did it flow naturally and believably?
3. Did the piece raise unanswered questions or did it satisfy your need to know? For example, were the characters motivations clear?
4. Can you give SPECIFIC examples of what worked well? Or that might improve the story, such as content, phrasing or word suggestions?
5. Would you want to hear more? (Especially of part of a chapter.) 

Often, before a reader reads, I'll ask, "Do you have any questions for us? Things you want us to know or things you want us to look for?" (For example, often the writer needs a better title.)

The keys to success are:
Accepting all levels of writing from shitty first drafts to fully polished. Accepting other forms, like poetry. BEING FLEXIBLE BUT FIRM.

By firm I mean holding up a Timeout signal when speakers digress and get distracted in their own experiences of the same event or emotion, even tho, initial reactions are great for seeing the impact of the piece on listeners.

There's more you can do as well, such as assigning writing prompts and sharing craft chats, which I'll share next.


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