What is an effective critique process?

The best critique process is the one your specific group agrees to do together.  There is no “right” way to critique, only choices.

Number of group members: While two could work, a group of 5-6 allows for sufficient energy and variety of feedback in the group, as well as keeping the momentum moving forward when one or two members have to miss a session due to life.

Length: A scene (3-5 pages), a chapter (5-20 pages), first fifty pages, the entire manuscript.  In my experience, most groups tend to critique a short selection, usually a scene within a chapter.  Using a shorter selection allows everyone in the group to get some feedback in a reasonable amount of time.

Critique: If you prick us, we will bleed. (Sorry, Shakespeare)  So as a rule of thumb, I always strive to give a colleague some feedback about something they did that worked well, then what can be improved.  The group should have a conversation about what constitutes appropriate feedback.  Some will want to limit critique to one or two items that could be improved.  At the other end of the spectrum, a group may want it all.  Difficulties arise when a group member crosses an agreed upon line.  If the group agrees to limit feedback to two things to be improved and to not focus on punctuation, you do not want to be the member who offers a laundry list of issues and a constant stream of punctuation corrections.

Respect and compassion: Yeah, we’re all professionals here.  However, that doesn’t give us the right to self-righteously smack a writer down, no matter our personal opinion about his or her writing.  We’re here to get each other across the line and part of that is to treat each other with respect.  In addition, drawing on some compassion can be a powerful thing for a group.  Even in my hard core just tell me the cold hard truth dammit group, if I sense my peer is a bit sensitive or beaten up today, I’m going to cut her some slack and offer some support.  Yes, we agreed to be gladiators in the arena of writing excellence, but if my peer is lying in the dirt with a spear through the chest, I’m going to offer a hand and a word of encouragement.  We all get to live to fight another day.

And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make…  Paul McCartney from The End (McCartney/Lennon)

The ultimate goal of an effective critique group is to support you and your peers in the development of your writing careers.  Across the life of your career you may at times need more support and at other times need a swift kick in the rear.  Only you know what you need, when you need it.  So be intentional about your participation in a critique group.  Be clear about what you want, be willing to ask for it, be open to finding it and be courageous in moving on when the group no longer meets your needs.  Be a respectful, compassionate and honest critique group partner.

What process have you found most effective in your critique groups?  Post a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

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