The WHATs of Critique Groups, by Heather Pierce Stigall


I started with the WHYs, then the HOWs, followed by the WHO/WHERE/WHENs of Critique Groups. If you’re wondering WHAT things to consider when leading your own or attending a critique group, then this post is for you:

What Rules You Might Want to Consider When Leading/Forming a Group

Each group is different. Some groups set up strict rules, some have relaxed guidelines, others fall somewhere in between. “Rules about what?” you might ask. Rules can be about:

  1. How to send manuscripts/book dummies for critiques – google docs, email, in person
  2. How often to submit – each member could take turns or all could submit for each meeting, leader can set deadlines to submit prior to each meeting
  3. How often to meet – 1x/month, every other month
  4. How to run in-person meetings – take turns offering comments or free-group discussion, designated time for each person so speak
  5. When to submit – wait to submit until in-person meetings & do critiques “cold,” submit & review before meetings & share critiques in person, submit and critique pre-meeting and use meeting for follow-up comments/questions
  6. How much of a MS each person can submit – entire MS or set a page/chapter/word limit


What to Do When Giving a Critique

The purpose of a critique group is to give and receive useful feedback so that all members can learn and support each other. So, when you give comments and suggestions on someone’s art or manuscripts, remember to frame them in a positive manner. Avoid sharing superficial comments (“I like this”). Instead, provide specific feedback about various aspects of the work in an honest, respectful and supportive way. A good rule of thumb is to use the “sandwich” technique:

  1. Start with saying something positive about the work
  2. Then point out areas you think need improvement
  3. Then finish with the strengths of the work.

You can comment on “big picture” items such as structure, plot, theme, voice, tone, pacing, and marketability as well as more detailed things such as grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, show vs. tell, title, first/last lines, and rhythm/rhyme. What you comment on will depend on what stage the manuscript is in and what the writer wants from his/her critique (for example, if the MS is in its early stages, the recipient might only want big picture comments). The “sandwich” technique and big/little picture comments apply when critiquing art as well. There are tons of resources out there about giving critiques. If you want more information about giving critiques, do a google search, ask more seasoned critiquers, or contact me and I’ll forward you some articles and links.

What to Do When Receiving a Critique

It’s difficult to put your work out there for others to judge, but remember that your critique partners are there to help you become a better writer/illustrator. There are some things you can do to make the most out of the critiques you receive.

  1. Listen – don’t argue or talk over the person giving you a critique; take notes; take time to absorb the comments you receive; save questions for later, after everyone has contributed
  2. Ask questions – after you’ve received comments, ask questions to clarify anything you don’t understand or if you want more detail on something
  3. Compare – review the comments and see what they might have in common. If more than one person commented on the same aspect of your work, it’s probably a sign you need to change it (or if more than one had a positive reaction to something, it’s a good sign you’re doing something right!)
  4. Wait – carefully consider each comment. You may have a gut reaction of “You’re wrong!” or “You are so right!” You may be right, but first consider each suggestion before making any changes. Sometimes suggestions don’t resound right away, so take the time think carefully before making revision decisions.

I hope I’ve now covered a lot of the Why, How, Where, When, Why, and What questions you may have had about Critique Groups, and I hope you plan to join one if you’re not in one already. If you have any more questions or comments, feel free to post them below or contact me. And remember that registration for the Poconos Retreat is open. I’d love to see you there, maybe even at the Peer Critique-a-Thon!

P.S. The deadline to submit materials for the Peer Critique-a-Thon is April 12!

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1 Response to The WHATs of Critique Groups, by Heather Pierce Stigall

  1. Pingback: A Critique Group Update & Something New! by Heather Stigall | EasternPennPoints

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