Wordsmiths is tops, but I have been in a number of other critique groups over the years with varying degrees of satisfaction. Here are a number of friendly do’s and don’ts based on those experiences:
DO Make a Commitment
It’s ok to visit a group to see if it fits your needs (and if they have an opening), but once you’ve been accepted and decide to join, enter the meeting dates on your calendar and make attending a high priority.
DON’T Attend Just Now and Then
I’ve actually known people who said they wanted to join, but then only showed up if they “had nothing better to do” or “if I feel like it.” Everyone faces illness or other emergencies from time to time, but we owe it to the group, and ourselves, to attend regularly.
DO Make Encouraging Comments
Preface remarks with statements, such as “Would you consider…” “How about…” or “It might help…”
DON’T Be Negative or Hurtful
Marking out whole paragraphs (or pages) and writing comments such as “This makes no sense” or “You don’t understand kids” or “Why are you bothering with this?” doesn’t help anyone. (I’ve actually seen these remarks on manuscripts!) Even if you don’t like the work, respect the effort.
DO Encourage Good Work
Note where dialogue, setting, etc. work well.
But…DON’T Be Too Positive!
A manuscript with all glowing comments will not help a writer improve. I was in a group, many years ago, with a woman who had been brought up with the admonition, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” While this may be a good idea for everyday life, it doesn’t work in critique groups. Showing where something doesn’t quite work, something that’s not clear, or facts that perhaps don’t agree and suggesting alternatives is better.
DO Try to Accept All Comments
Even if comments are occasionally hurtful (should that happen) simply listen without comment. Then use only the ideas you think will work. Remember…it’s YOUR story!
DON’T Explain or Defend Your Work
You can be pretty sure if a group member spots a legitimate problem, an editor will see it, too…and you won’t be there to explain!
DO Respect Limits
Bring only the requested number of pages (usually around 10) and note the time limits for each person. Wordsmiths keeps it around 20 minutes per person. We find a timer works great.
DON’T Ask For Exceptions.
Bringing numerous chapters of your manuscript “just this once” and using up others’ time is usually not a good idea and does not help group harmony.
Following these tips should assist any critique group be the best it can be.