If you’re thinking about joining or starting a writing group, great! It’s one of the best ways to gain (and give) support and feedback as you move forward with your writing. If you’re going to critique one another’s writing, though, it’s essential to establish some guidelines, giving your group focus and a shared purpose.
I’ve seen talented writers who almost gave up on their craft because they went through a critique session gone wrong—with brutal back-biting and criticism instead of constructive feedback.
To make sure your group stays on track, feel free to adopt these guidelines, which four other writers and I put together years ago. They kept us meeting and happily critiquing for several years. Hopefully they’ll do the same for you
If you’re the author:
- Introduce the piece you want to have workshopped. What prompted you to write it? Are you looking for a particular kind of feedback? What do you want participants to look/listen for in your writing?
- Ask for specific rather than general critiques. For instance, “Does it flow?” will elicit one response, but “Do I need a transition between paragraphs seven and eight?” will elicit a different one.
- Put your writing in context. If it’s part of a bigger story or book, for instance, explain where this piece will appear and why it’s important to the larger whole.
- Don’t compare your work to others or judge anyone else’s work as superior of inferior to yours.
- Remember that you’re the ultimate authority on your own writing. Accept the feedback of others, use what works for you, and leave the rest.
If you’re providing feedback:
- Set aside any sense of competition. Remember that this is group work within a supportive community.
- Be a thoughtful and attentive listener. Jot down notes as you’re reading or listening to the author’s work.
- Critique work on the merits of the writing, not based on how you would have done it.
- Use “I” rather than “you” statements, such as, “I’d like to know more about…” rather than “You need to say more about…”
- Begin your feedback by detailing what you liked best. What particular phrases, images or messages stood out to you?
- Mention what you’d like to know more about. What’s missing? What needs more explanation? What was confusing to you?
Of course, you can add or amend these guidelines to fit your group, but be sure to get everyone’s agreement on them from the beginning. That way, if workshopping takes a negative turn, you can review the guidelines as a group and re-commit to supporting one another through honest and constructive critiques.