Below are some guidelines that came via Janet Oakley via the University of Washington. Beyond that we don’t know the origins of this list (do tell if you know). Would LOVE to hear what you do in your writing group. Are there rules? Processes? Specific goals? And what do you think of these listed here? Agree? Disagree? Want to add something? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Forming a critique group

  • It should be held in an environment which holds to these standards 1. A neutral place of emotional safety for a writer’s work to be heard. Not at someone’s home. Think of this as a business meeting. 2. A professional attitude 3. The main goal is to further the work of the other writer in a respectful, helpful manner.
  • No more than 4-5 participants
  • Up to 3 pages read per writer for beginners.
  • Up to 5 pages read per writer for intermediate / advanced. This depends on the experience of the participants.
  • Notes and the specific symbols used in this type of critique are important. ie: ‘+’ this part of the scene being read is working.  ‘~’ means there is a ‘bump’ in this part of the scene (it isn’t working /examp. A POV shift.) ‘Q.’ means the listener/critique has a question about something like. “What is the emotional curve you are trying for with this character, in this scene.” ‘*’ Something in the scene is especially well done. Use small ‘legal’ type note pads. Put the symbols in the margins next to the specific part referred to. Only AFTER all of the critiquers have read their notes to the writer are the sheets ripped out of the pads and handed to the writer. Noise is distracting.
  • The way it is done: Take turns. Each writer reads aloud his/her pages without any prefacing of the scene. The critiquers are to listen without comment or questions, during this and take notes. When the writer is finished reading each critiquer, taking turns, reads back to the writer what they have written down, without any interruption from other critiquers, or the writer. The writer, is at this time, writing down what the critiquer is telling them (additional information often comes out verbally that hasn’t been written down.). The writer Does Not answer the questions the critiquer is asking. These questions are a tool for the writer to later examine the scene with.
  • Language used by the critiquer is important. When something in the scene isn’t working say…”I was ‘bumped’ out of the scene because of a POV shift.” Or, “I was ‘bumped’ by the abrupt transition part in the scene.” Do Not say something like. “That was a weak or stupid way to show a transition.” Another acceptable way is: “I needed to know who was speaking in this part.” Or “I needed to have you show me, not tell me about the emotional curve of the character in this scene.” It is your responsibility to help further the work of the writer. This process has nothing to do with negative criticism.
  • The writer gathers up the sheets and later at home uses the information as a basis to revise the scene.
  • Choose your working group carefully. You are not looking for people to do line editing, or grammar corrections. Neither are you looking for a critiquer who is only interested in ‘telling’ and controlling how you should write your scenes. Beware of ‘you shoulds’. You are looking for respectful, committed participants who will show up on a regular basis, not just drop in once in a while.
  • Get down to work and keep the social chitchat to a minimum. It will take 3-4 hours to complete the process for 4 writers in one sitting. Make sure the place is comfortable to meet in! You can socialize after the group is finished.
  • Do not mix fiction writers with non-fiction or screenplay writers, or poetry writers. Each is a world unto its self.
  • Have fun and enjoy the creative life of a writer!