Don’t. The end.
Let me begin to explain. This will take more than one post.
How it all began
Early last year, while close to completing the second draft of my historical fiction WIP, I decided the time had finally come to start assembling a critique group.
This was something I’d wanted to do—to be a part of—for almost as long as I’ve been writing with a view of someday being published (almost 10 years).
Whenever I fantasized about my life as a published author, always this vision included a group of author peers who gave me feedback on my drafts and ideas, and for whom I did the same.
More than a single critique partner, or even a series of individual CPs, I wanted to create a group where we all worked together and supported each other in achieving our writing goals.
However, it took all the way until 2017 for me to actually finish something to make the services of a critique group necessary.
From there, rather than join an existing group (as I did years ago when I had the idea to form a social meetup group for writers), given all the critique group horror stories you regularly hear about online, I decided the best way to avoid all that drama would be to create and manage a critique group of my own.
Which is exactly what I did, using these steps which you too can follow:
1) Know exactly what you’re looking for (i.e. visioning)
The first thing I did in establishing my critique group was a visioning exercise: I imagined that the group already existed and described to myself what I saw.
One key feature was that the group contained locally-based writers, so that we could have regular in-person meetings.
There are critique groups that function solely online, with far-flung people who have never met and mightn’t even recognize each other if they did.
There’s nothing at all wrong with groups like that so long as they function effectively for all parties involved.
But that’s not what I wanted for myself. Rather I wanted to cultivate a sense of sociality within the group—for us to become face-to-face friends and form a long-term partnership in which we progress together along our respective writer’s journeys.
Something else I wanted was writers who had completed a minimum of two drafts of their novel. Because I had NO desire to read someone’s shitty first draft.
In terms of group numbers, I decided to try for 4-6 members max.
2) Ask for what you want (i.e. advertising)
Having conjured the ideal group members in my mind, it was time to find them in the flesh.
To attract only the most serious and committed people, I did what I do best—i.e. writing.
I composed the most epic group description in the history of critique groups, which I posted on Meetup.com, a local Facebook group, in local coffee shops, and also spread around through word of mouth.
Even I admit that this shit was intense. It was basically a job description, laying out in explicit detail both the structure and function of the group as I envisioned it, plus the nine criteria I expected prospective members to meet.
But that’s not all. I also made prospective members complete a (lengthy) application form. Not only because their actually taking the time to do it would be indicative of the strength of their desire to join the group.
Not only because the clarity of their answers would be somewhat indicative of the clarity of their mindset around critique and revision.
But also because I have a background in evaluation. Which meant I wasn’t going to just trust people’s claims that they fit my criteria. I was going to test them on it. Such as when I asked “How many drafts of your novel have you completed? 0, 1, 2, 3, more than 3”, and some people actually chose 1.
I appreciated the honesty. But NO shitty first drafts!
3) Insist upon what you want (i.e. screening)
If any prospective members thought the application form was too much for them, there were still two more phases of the selection process to go.
Next, each person had to have an interview with me. (I told you it was like a job posting.)
“Interview” is perhaps too formal a word. I didn’t have prepared questions or take any interview notes. But I did want to meet each person to see if I felt comfortable around them.
From there, the last bit of the process was for us to critique the first chapter of each other’s book, to determine if the nature of feedback provided was what we were looking for.
Everyone that I considered for the group went through the complete process I just described, which in practice wasn’t nearly as straightforward and smooth as I’ve written it.
Rather, I spent six long months contending with protracted delays between email replies, interviews that had to be scheduled weeks into the future, interviews that were cancelled at the last-minute, people who no-showed for their interview, people who withdrew their candidacy right just as they were to be offered admission, people who withdrew their candidacy while criticizing my vision for the group, and one member I had to actively disinvite from the group due to a misrepresentation of commitment, I seriously considered abandoning the entire undertaking.
But in this way, my own screening process became as much a test of my commitment to my as-yet-nonexistent critique group as that of the writers I meant to populate it with.
With this realization, it became a matter of only when, not if, my group would come into existence. Which it finally did in November of 2017, and has been going strong ever since.
Do you belong to a critique group or have any sort of writing peers that you work with on your projects? Let me know in the comments.