When I attended the Florida Christian Writer’s Conference several years ago and studied under Eva Marie Everson, I learned how to critique using Eva’s method from her book, WORD WEAVERS, The Story of a Successful Writers’ Critique Group with Janice Elsheimer.
This year, I participated in a critique group at the same conference using the same technique. I found it to be very effective. Check your area to see if and where there might be a group nearby. Go to Google and search Word Weavers, your city and state. Check out their website HERE.
I recommend this book for writers who are serious about forming their own critique groups. You can find the book on Amazon HERE. Eva Marie Everson said, “When we started using our model of critique, our writers started getting published in a wide variety of venues. Books. Ariticles. Devos (such as Upper Room), etc. More than this, our writers started winning awards for their work. We knew that this was one area of our model we’d never change.”
Here’s a vlog about how to run the meetings:
If you don’t want to watch the demo, here’s a quick summary:
Chapters include: What to expect from a critique group, where to begin, members and content, how to run the meetings, what is a critique group and why do you need one. Here’s a brief excerpt (taken from the book) of how the meetings are run, but there is much more to this process than below. You’ll have to read the book and/or join a group to find out more.
- Each group has an assigned leader who reviews the basic rules at the beginning of each session.
- The first person to be critiqued distributes his or her manuscript. Writers are asked to bring 8-10 copies. We limit the word count to 1500 words, double-spaced and line-numbered. Before we required line numbering, we wasted too much time counting down paragraphs and lines to follow the comments of each critiquer. Now, we don’t critique any manuscript that isn’t numbered and double-spaced.
- Before the reading, we encourage the writer to explain the purpose of the piece and what she or he hopes to get from the critique. The reader also needs to know who the intended audience is.
- The person to the left of the writer then reads the entire piece aloud. This allows the author to hear how the piece sounds to someone reading it for the first time. The author will note when the reader stumbles over a phrase, and will hear redundancies and or errors that might have gone unnoticed before. Having others read our work aloud not only allows us to hear how our words sound right off the page, but it allows us to hear whether our words are producing the intended effect on the reader.
- While the piece is being read aloud, the other members of the group write comments on their copy, both positive and negative.
- After allowing a minute or two for reviewers to formulate their thoughts and prepare their critique, the actual critique begins with the person to the right of the writer. (This allows the reader to comment last, giving that person more time to critique the piece. NOTE: Each critiquer uses the “SANDWICH TECHNIQUE,” beginning and ending with positive remarks. Critiquers are encouraged to make those remarks as specific as possible. In other words, “Your writing is very good,” is not specific enough. “I love the description in paragraph one. Right away I wanted to read on because I really felt I was there” is much more specific and useful for the writer.
- Besides writing comments of their own on their copy of the manuscript, we encourage all reviewers to write down “I agree” or “I disagree” when they hear another reviewer’s comment they want to weigh in on. That way, when the writer gets home and goes through all the edited copies, if most people agreed with a suggestion, it’s a pretty good indication that the change is worth considering.
- We also encourage critiquers to offer suggestions for where the writer might submit their piece.
- Writers LISTEN during critiques: They don’t defend their work or argue with critiquers. They don’t explain what they really meant unless asked specifically by the critiquer so that he or she will know how to help them clarify their meaning. Writers in our group understand that if the critiquers don’t get it, the passage probably isn’t working and needs revision.
- While one critiquer is speaking, others in the group remain quiet. We don’t allow discussion or debate during critiques. Just as the writer has to sit back and not defend the work, so other critiquers are not allowed to argue, agree with, or express an opinion in any way while another critiquer is speaking. If a writer disagrees they should write it on their copy.
- Writers being critiqued should regard comments as “information” not as personal attacks. They are encouraged to see these comments as suggestions, to be used or discarded as they see fit. We encourage writers to remember that no matter what the critiquers say about their piece, they still own their writing, and it’s up to them to make the changes they see as beneficial to their purposes.
- Once everyone in the group has had a chance to comment on the manuscript, copies are returned to the writer. We encourage critiquers to put their name and email addresses on their copies so the writer can contact them if they have any questions about their comments.
- Leaders should end by making a general positive statement, thanking the writer for sharing his or her work and mentioning what, if anything, the whole group learned from the critique session. Example, “Thank you, Judy, for bringing that piece in. Not only did we all learn something about parallel structure, but we learned some things about suicide prevention too.”
There are examples throughout the book of pitfalls–things you’ll want to avoid, and success stories–things that worked and why. Regardless of whether you adapt to this critique style, your writing success and the success of your writer friends will greatly improve with some kind of organized feedback and editing. You will find, like many other WORD WEAVERS, that this method can lead to a published story or article.
Do you belong to a critique group? How does the style of your group differ from this one?