Writing groups can be a great tool for authors, in terms of both motivation and critique. That said, it’s important to organize and manage such a group carefully. Much of this should be thoughtfully worked out by the founding members. A designated leader or coordinator is also advisable.
Setting Group Parameters
When starting a new group, it is helpful to have agreement on the scope of the group, such as:
- Types of works covered: fiction, non-fiction, children’s, poetry, etc.
- Activities to be undertaken, such as:
- Reviewing and critiquing of work in development
- Share publishing marketing information
Most groups’ activities revolve around the critiquing of individual author work. We recommend the two-phase approach. There should be agreed limits on length. Double spaced is best, as it allows for easier reading and notations between the lines.
Phase 1: Members who wish to have a piece reviewed should email a MS Word document to all other members. This should be done no later than three to four days before the meeting. The earlier, the better. Other members should read and review the piece, and mark edits using Word’s “Track Changes” function. This makes it easier for authors to find, accept or decline the edit. It is during this first stage that issues of grammar, punctuation, spelling and word usage are most easily discussed and dispensed with before the meeting. Edits and comments are in no way confined to such issues. Comments can also be inserted. Both “Track Changes” and “New Comment” can be found under the Review tab.
The more polished the submission, the better the critique will be.
Phase 2: The author should then bring at least two copies to the meeting. Here, the other members read the author’s work aloud, usually just three pages at a time. They pass the submission around until it is completely read. Many authors find listening to their work read aloud helps give them a better perspective, particularly on dialog.
Once the piece is finished, each member proceeds to give their critique. During this time, the author stays silent, absorbing the feedback. The author should not attempt to clarify or argue with the critiques, otherwise members may hold back in the future. At the end of the critiques, the author may address comments or questions offers by other members.
Like any human endeavor, there are pitfalls. A certain amount of discipline is required, or a group can fall apart. This may sound strange, but beware if a group becomes overly social during the meeting. Many people have complained that various groups go off task. Instead of critiquing, some members may start telling stories, talk about their recent vacation, or complain about troubles in their life. This reduces the time for feedback. As a result, there may be not enough time to review everyone’s work. This is why a disciplined moderator is so important.
Again, writing groups can be very rewarding and productive endeavor. Good luck!