Monthly Archives: November 2009

Encouragement is the Key

To be a successful critique group member, you must be an encourager, for we gather together to help one another become better at our craft. I think the Apostle Paul says it best in Romans 1:11-12: “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established — that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.”

There is a give and take in a critique group: we give of ourselves and take back what we have learned from one another. The glue that holds the Wordsmiths together is our mutual faith in Christ, who taught us to love another as He loves us. And that love is what allows us to come alongside and lift up and encourage so we all can learn.

-Catherine L. Osornio




This past month, we’ve been sharing ways we can work on to improve as members of our very own critique group.

One of the most important ways we can improve as a member of a writer’s group is to continually be working to improve our skills as writers.

Here’s a fun exercise you can download as a pdf file, print out, and take to your next critique group. Complete the game with your writing friends and sharpen a few of your writing skills with a more thorough knowledge of the industry’s most common acronyms.



-by Nancy I. Sanders

What Is Your Responsibility As A Critique Member?

Being part of a critique group is one of the best things you can do for your writing and the writing of others in the group.
What do you bring to the table in a critique group?

Are you honest but kind? It does not do any good to only praise a writer and not show them ways their manuscript can be improved. But, it does not help a writer to only say negative things about their work. Finding positive things will encourage your critique member to keep writing. Finding only negative things may discourage them so much that they quit writing.

Do you respect the time of your fellow critique members? When another member is sharing their work or information, especially if it is during a time allotted to them, be considerate and save comments about your own work for your allotted time.

Are you committed to your critique group? Attending your critique group only when you “want to” or only when you have something to have critiqued is not being a commmitted member. Being there for the other members is important, even if you have no manuscript to share.

Is your goal to see that the other critique members have the best manuscripts possible? It’s not just about you is a good thing to consider. Your goal should be to see that each member of the group develops a manuscript that is at its best.

If you are part of a critique group, you are very fortunate. Try and be the best member you can be!

Hoping I am a good critique member, Gloria

Listen Up

As we read the manuscripts along with the writer we’re careful to catch typos and make suggestions for improvement. We also make comments of sections well done or  what makes us laugh.

Studying for voice, setting, hook if it’s a beginning, dialogue, and all the other good things keeps our minds busy. But there’s one other thing that I find important as we critique after the reading, and that is to listen to the suggestions given by other writers. If I’m thinking about what I want to say I might miss some excellent points I’d never thought of.

When I listen carefully to these critiques of other’s work, I learn a lot that I can use in my own writing. Isn’t that part of what it’s all about?



Support each other through the ups and downs of writing

Make constructive improvements to manuscripts

Inspire each other to pursue God’s call

Laugh together often and have fun as friends

Encourage each other to explore new possibilities

-contributed by Nancy I. Sanders

Are You Hearing What I Think I Said?

There are characters acting out entire chapters in my head. Sort of like a movie. My characters are alive and adventurous— or so I THINK! My exciting plot builds and never waivers from the theme. Hmmm. Not so sure about that one. Surely the dialog I’ve written is natural and flows. Uh, oh. I think I need help with that as well. Why? Because it’s impossible for me to step outside of myself and look OBJECTIVELY at my writing. I need help. I need a critique group.

Once I’ve put pen to paper, I hope I’m translating that “movie” in my head so my critique buddies will “see” exactly what’s going on in that crazy brain of mine, but I know better. I’m going to need their objectivity.

As a group, we strive to help each other get that exciting, funny, or thought-provoking story out of our heads and onto paper. A writer’s brain can be Disneyland ten times over when it comes to imagination. But moving those images from your head to the page just as you “see” it, can be a challenge. Sometimes there’s a gap.

Nancy Kress talks about this in her WONDERFUL book, Beginnings, Middles & Ends. She writes that we can see the story in our head like a movie, with all its action and dialogue. But once we sit down to write, something happens. It isn’t the same. There is a gap between the story we see and the story we actually put down on the page.

When any one of us in Wordsmiths presents something we’ve written for critique, we’re actually asking this question, “Are you hearing what I think I said?” I know that after reading my manuscripts aloud, if the group hears something other than what I intended to convey, I have a “gap” between the story I visualize and the one I need to write.

To me, one of the most valuable things about belonging to a critique group is their OBJECTIVITY that helps me fill in a gap or two, or three, or—well, you get the idea.  Their comments and direction have helped me to become a better writer!

I believe that continued growth as a writer depends greatly on an objective, yet kind critique group like Wordsmiths.  I know they’ve filled a large “gap” in my life for sure!

A Time-ly Matter

One of the most important items in a successful critique group is keeping track of time.  The moderators of Wordsmiths are terrific at this!  We all “obey” the timer almost to the minute and get a tremendous amount of quality work done.  Through the years, however, I have been in other groups where there was resistance to time limits or they were not strictly enforced.  Often readers did not observe the 10-page maximum for manuscripts.

Many times I’ve heard phrases such as, “I don’t like time limits.  Anybody should be free to read as much as they like,” or “Timers a just a nuisance.  We should discuss each manuscript as long we want.”  I have been in groups where sometimes over an hour was spent on one person’s work!  While attitudes such as these may seem helpful and considerate, they are really unfair. If 6-8 members bring something to read, it’s easy to see how the meeting will drag on for hours and members could get very weary (and cranky!)  🙂

And, in truth, it serves no purpose to go over manuscripts with such a “fine-toothed comb.”  It’s not necessary to pick apart every sentence.  The main idea of a critique group is to give writers an objective viewpoint, to figure out if something isn’t quite right or otherwise doesn’t work.

Certainly sentence fragments, glaring punctuation and grammatical errors, if they are found, can be commented on (in a positive, encouraging way, of course), but otherwise, these small items can simply be marked on the manuscript.  More importantly, if everyone tells how they think the story should be written, often changing plot, characters, and sometimes even the main idea, it no longer is the original writer’s work.

Here are some examples:  In one group I was in years ago (they mainly wrote for adults) one woman always wanted to change most main characters to a pre-menopausal woman, insisting this would make the story “so hilarious.”  In another, a writer wanted every story, even those for small children, to be “sensitive to women’s issues.”  A third instance was a member who questioned every detail of setting, whether it be snow in the mountains, the desert of the Southwest, or even the Amish country. He always knew better, claiming he had “been there.”

None of these criticisms, or “suggestions,” helped the writer.  They weren’t true to the original intent, used up time and energy, led to arguments (which have no place in a good critique group) and often left the writer dazed and confused.

From my experience in Wordsmiths, I know that limiting what each person reads to 10 pages is important.  And, 20 minutes, 30 minutes at the very most, is ample time to discuss and comment on these manuscripts.  This gives a writer the feedback she needs without using up copious amounts of time, exhausting members, and/or completely dismantling a manuscript.

If you find your critique group is dragging, try using a timer and sticking to a schedule.  It works beautifully for us!

Contributed by Marjorie Flathers