Thursday, May 9, 2013

Creating Guidelines for Writers' Critique Groups #TBSU

Every time I started working with a new group of eager writers in the Novel Writers' Workshop at Auburn University, one of our first tasks was to brainstorm a list of guidelines for critiquing. Though the lists seldom varied, it was important for the particular writers to own their particular list of guidelines. For that reason, I suggest you use these guidelines, though honed over much conversation and debate, as a starting point only!

Here's the distilled wisdom of several dozen emerging writers, who over the years wrote MANY published novels!

Guidelines for Critiquing 

Sometimes we can’t see what’s best in our own work, so when we edit, we may muck up the good as we try to eliminate the clunky. As critiquers, we want to help each other learn to recognize our

best sentences, 

best usage of language, 

dialogue that rings true, 

can’t-stop-now hooks, 


Here are a few ground rules.

1. Be positive.

2. Use friendly, considerate language. 

  • “Have you thought about…” 
  • “Maybe you could…”

3. Be clear and specific. 

  • “This sentence is long. I’m having trouble following it.” 
  • “You’ve started two sentences in a row with gerunds here.”

4. Be encouraging. 

  • “I love the way you do dialogue.”
  • “I can see this character so clearly.”

5. Contribute from your own experience.

  • “When I was trying to fix up a paragraph last week, it helped when…”

6. Mark technical problems (spelling, typos, punctuation, etc) on the manuscript but don’t bring them up for discussion unless there’s some obscure error the whole group might learn from.

Most Important of All!

7. As the receiver, don’t take suggestions too seriously. It’s your writing!

I hope these guidelines are helpful. Similar lists have helped create a mutually supportive (cheerleader) and still substantively solid (editor) atmosphere for critiquing. 

Has your experience with critique groups been positive, negative, or mixed? Do you participate in a critique group with other writers? What are your guidelines? Please join the conversation in the comments! 

If you haven't already, take a look at the previous post for a Raffle Copter with the prize of a free copy of Who Is Candid?! (contest closes midnight, May 13, 2013)

Check out these related posts:

Some great blogs, presented here in the grand tradition of The Blog Scratchers' Union! #TBSU


  1. mwwaaaaaaaaaah... just.... mwaaaah :)

    1. mwwaaaaaaaaaah back at you, Seumas! Thanks for visiting! Huge hug (physical manifestation of mwaaaah??),


  2. Very similar to the way things are run in Toastmasters. When evaluating people, we try to use all these techniques to make sure the critiques actually provide useful information to the speaker, but at the same time supporting and encouraging all their efforts. And that last point is also crucial... always go with your gut even if some of the feedback you've received says otherwise. ;-)

    1. Thanks for commenting, Nathalie!

      I hadn't thought of it that way, but these guidelines would work for just about any group discussion, especially related to performance. Hmmm...

      No wonder you enjoy Toastmasters so much! Keep having fun! Hug,