Hello folks, I’m Sara Ryan, the most recent addition to the Scrivas. Before I joined, I hadn’t been in a critique group for several years. I’d had some great previous group experiences, but I was hesitant. It’s a big commitment!
If you’re trying to figure out whether a group will work for you — particularly a group that’s been going on for a while — here are some suggestions.
1. Talk to a current member about how the group works. Get the basics: how often are the meetings, how many manuscripts are typically discussed, how far in advance do you turn in pages, how many pages, etc. See the Critique FAQs for other things to consider.
If the schedule and structure seem good, proceed to step 2.
2. Observe a meeting. Read the manuscripts in advance so you’ll be able to follow the discussion. Write up some thoughts if you want for your own reference, but don’t plan on giving critique.
What you want is to see to how the group functions.
Are the members both generous with praise and rigorous about identifying what isn’t working? (Watch out for mutual admiration societies: a group that gives nothing but praise is unlikely to advance the craft of its members.)
Does everyone seem to have similar taste? (The taste question is tricky: it’s helpful for a group to have some shared values about what makes for a strong story, but it’s also great when members bring very different ideas and perspectives to their reading.)
How do the writers being critiqued react? Do they appreciate the feedback, even if some of it’s negative?
How does the group treat you, the observer? Do they share in-jokes and shorthand and otherwise make you feel welcome?
If you and the group feel good after your observation, take it to the next level:
3. Participate in a meeting.You’re not an official member yet, but you’re going to both give and get critique.
How do other members take what you have to say about their writing? How do you feel about their critiques of yours? Of course you won’t agree with everything everyone says, that’s the nature of critique. But do the group’s comments help you see what’s working and what isn’t in your manuscript? (Sometimes it’s when you’re critiquing someone else’s manuscript that you see how to fix something in your own.)
Still feeling good? Seal the deal.
4. Join. (Celebratory Whitney Houston optional, but recommended.)