Writing Craft

How to start a critique group | Jill K Willis

Writers need writers. It’s true. We need like-minded wordsmiths to keep us engaged and encouraged. And we need multiple sets of eyes on our manuscripts to catch grammatical errors, typos, and holes in our stories.

We could pay agents to be our cheerleaders and editors to ensure the soundness of our work. But why should we pay them for every step of our writing journey when we can get the same services for free from other writers? Agents and editors are definite assets, but it saves everyone time and money if we present them with a product that’s as close to flawless as possible.

When I started writing I relied on my friends to be my cheerleaders, but soon discovered they weren’t as supportive when their proposed activities clashed with my need for BICHOK (Butt In Chair Hands On Keyboard). Other writers get it. If you say, I need to write from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., they won’t bother you. And more importantly, they’re also willing to swap chapters for honest critiques.

After joining the American Christian Fiction Writers, I discovered a membership perk: the organization’s online critique group. I joined it and began submitting chapters to “swap” with other writers. My critiquers (or critters as ACFW calls them) pinpointed tons of grammatical errors and typos in my manuscript. However, they had a rough time with my story as the majority wrote for adults. So I asked the website manager if a subgroup could be formed for writers of the young adult genre. She sent out a query, and 10 writers replied. Within a week, she had worked out the coding and formed Scribes 209. That was five years ago, and now we’re a group of 15 located in 11 states. Check out our Storyteller Squad.

This strategy worked for me, but there are many options available to both pre-published and published writers. Consider the following:

  1. Decide whether you want to critique online or in-person. Either way, try to find writers of your genre. They’ll understand your work best. Reach out to writers through your local ACFW group, libraries, and by Googling “Writers Groups Near Me.” You might be surprised at how many writers you’ll locate.
  2. If you choose to meet in-person, I highly recommend you contact Word Weavers. This Christian international organization founded in 1997, can slip you into an already-formed local group or assist you in setting up your own group. They have tried-and-true protocol for critiquing that works well for writers of all ages and genres.
  3. If you prefer online critiquing, you’ll need to work with your fellow critters to create a method of critiquing. Each year, a member of my critique group volunteers to host. He or she sends out an email each Wednesday asking who’s available to critique. Based on the feedback, the host randomly matches writers and creates an Excel spreadsheet that he or she distributes each Friday to that week’s participants. Each writer submits one chapter of up to 2,500 words and has to critique two other writers’ chapters. In return, that writer receives two critiques of his or her submitted chapter. The critiques must be completed by the following Thursday.

I never could have published The Demons Among Us without my critique group. The 42-chapter manuscript traveled through the group twice. Before I handed it to my wonderful editor, Miriam Romain, each chapter had been reviewed and revised a minimum of four times. I don’t believe Miriam would have agreed to edit it in its initial state.

If you have any questions about starting a critique group, please comment below. I’m happy to help.

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