Many people ask about critique groups–are they important, how do you find a good one, and how do you start your own? I’ve already addressed the importance issue in a previous post, so today I’d like to talk about how to start your own.

I struggled for years trying to find a group I could physically meet with to review my work. Because of small children at home, scheduling conflicts, and not wanting to drive across town every week, I gave up. Then I was presented with an opportunity to get involved in an online critique group. That was over a year ago. The group started getting so big, that we had a wait list. Once the wait list got long enough, I broke off from the original group and formed my own. I now facilitate this group, which is a children’s writers’ critique group, called Picture This.

From my experience with this, I’d like to discuss several considerations when trying to start a group:

1. Choose the genre you want your group to focus on. This will probably be a natural byproduct of what you are forming a group for in the first place, but if you have several writer friends who want a critique group, but you all write in different genres, you’ll find yourself with two options: either leave the group open to all genres, which can get tricky if you have too many people who have no experience with certain ones, or choose just one or two you can focus on.

2. Decide on an online or in-person group. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Online is obviously great because you can connect with people anywhere. We currently have a member who lives in the UK, which offers an excellent perspective and insight on the UK publishing  market. Additionally, you don’t have to worry about scheduling conflicts or not making it to a meeting because you’re snowed in (like I am right now). Being able to meet in person is good because you can have in-depth conversations with your members about their work and share critiques in person, which eliminates email “tone” problems.

3. Finding group members. Good places to start when you’re looking for critique group members are local writers’ workshops, writers’ conferences, writer friends and their referrals, mentors, and online writing forums or blogs. One note of warning is to be careful when inviting friends into your group. You may have a great relationship now, but once you start prodding in their manuscripts, you may see a side of your friends that you didn’t know existed!

Another tip is to try to find members who have a similar experience level. It’s helpful to have a couple of members who are more experienced if they’re willing to serve as mentors for the group. If possible, find people strong in different areas of writing. For instance, in my children’s critique group, we have a couple people who are amazing at developing rhyming texts. Others are very strong with plot development; others in word choice or character development. You may not know strengths until you are in a group together, but it makes for a very well-rounded critique group if you can find such members.

Next time we’ll talk about how many members is best and developing group guidelines.

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