Five things to do to prepare for a writing critique group
Updated: Jan 25
The first time I prepared to host a writing critique group, the only thing I was worried about was the food. Did anyone have any food allergies, and did strawberry scones come across as trying too hard?
Now, over a decade later, I’ve realized that it’s more important to prepare for a writing group by thinking about, well, your writing. (Brilliant, I know!) More specifically, though, I’ve realized how important it is to be clear about why you’re joining the writing group and what you’d like to get out of it.
In our course Giving and Receiving Feedback on Novels, my critique partner Diana Ma and I will go into much more detail about each of these steps. We’ll tell you more about our process and help you come up with your own.
But here are some steps to get you started:
Check in with yourself. As you think about what you want to get out of your writing group, take some deep, grounding breaths and check in with your body and your thoughts. You might consider closing your eyes or putting your hand on your heart or your belly. When you think about sharing your writing with another person or group, what emotions come up? It’s important to check in with your feelings before you start thinking about how you want to present your work. For me, identifying the anxiety I feel about showing someone else my work allows me to set that anxiety aside for a minute so I can focus on identifying the kind of feedback I actually want.
Take a moment to write about why you are writing. Why are you working on this novel or this essay or this poem? Why does it matter to you? I recommend setting a timer and doing a 15-minute freewrite on this question. Your goal is to go as deep as possible, to make connections between the writing you are doing and your emotions and passions and ambitions. Why this piece, and why now? You can edit this response later to share it with your writing group, but right now, just get it all down.
Write some notes about the kinds of feedback would be most helpful to you right now. Are you ready for line level edits, or do you need to talk about your main character’s motivation or how to create a more complex antagonist? Do you want your critique group to focus on the structure of what you’re writing, or do you want to have a conversation about your larger plot arc? Write down 2-3 questions or focal points for the writing group to address.
Before you attend your writing group, take a few deep breaths. Again. Yes, you’re ending where you began! Sharing our writing can be an emotional and vulnerable process. If you feel centered and calm before you share your work, you’ll be able to listen more openly to feedback and to set clear boundaries if people give you advice that doesn’t address the issues you wanted to address. (Diana and I also have some advice for what to do if your writing group veers away from these discussion points, but we’ll talk about those in our course.) And if you feel centered before you read other people’s pages, you’ll be more open to responding to their questions and concerns about their work rather than centering your own.
Finally, have fun! Writing groups and critique partners can be amazing and energizing. Having another person refer to one of your characters as if they are a real person in the world is a pretty incredible feeling, and it can make the world that you’re creating feel so much more real.