Self-editing, or that one-hundredth rewrite of the same paragraph can only go so far to polish your manuscript. You often need another pair of impartial eyes for a critical review of your work, not your mother, your child, your spouse or your co-worker. You need another writer, who won’t try to please you, doesn’t want to prove you can or cannot be a writer. You need someone you trust, who will share constructive suggestions and ideas with you. One person reading, editing and critiquing your work is a critique partner, two or more and you have a critique group. A critique group brings together two to no more than six writers to help each other. Three or four persons usually works best because working with too many critique partners can become unwieldy.
To start a group, invite several writers you know and trust to join a critique group. Select a meeting time and place and decide what “business format” your group will take. Some groups exchange a chapter at a time, others a few pages at a time either at the meeting or prior to the meeting. You might mail copies to members, email or post on the Internet. Some read the material at their meetings, others work on it between meetings and only discuss it if there is a problem that warrants the group’s attention. My critique group studied a book together. At a typical ninety-minute weekly meeting, we discuss our current work, plot problems, blocks, or where we think we are heading. We exchange pages or chapters to take home and return the following week. We may work on an exercise, hold a plotting party, interview our characters, or study a chapter in a book.
Should your critique group have all of the same genre of writers and the same level of expertise? That’s up to you. My group has two inspirational writers and one person who writes historical and contemporary fiction and non-fiction. We have different levels of experience and expertise, and we find that works well for us. Other groups prefer to have everyone working at the same level or on similar projects. Each group functions differently, but each have the same goal, to help each other learn the craft of writing and polish their manuscripts before an editor sees them.
Some pointers for working together:
- Respect your partner’s work. You have different styles of writing and word choice or sentence construction. Suggest; don’t re-write. The object of the game is to improve, not butcher.
- Respect your group’s time together. You are not a support group for one person’s problems. Your goal is to work together to hone your skills and develop marketable manuscripts.
- Be professional. When you give someone your work to read and critique, hand them your best effort, clean, double-spaced with indented paragraphs and correct punctuation. Take their suggestions to mind, not to heart. You do not have to agree with the critiquer’s marks or changes. It is still your words, your sentences and your book. However, if more than one person makes the same comments or changes, you should look seriously at following their suggestion before submitting the piece to an editor who will undoubtedly notice the same passage.
- Trust your partners. No one is going to steal your idea and write the same book you are working on. In our group, all three of us happened to have a bed and breakfast inn as a setting once. But, each work was entirely unique, each set of characters very different.
- Brush up on style and proof-reading. Learn how to mark a manuscript, what symbols to use to indicate where a new paragraph needs to be inserted, when a word is misspelled or misplaced, when a passage needs clarification. You don’t need to suggest different wording, simply call the writer’s attention to the error or passage and let the author re-write it.