- a web page with guidelines for starting and maintaining supportive and constructive critique groups
- a new writing group directory, to help writers find potential group members in their genre and/or geographical area, which can be accessed after reading the guidelines
- an experienced critique writer to attend the first meeting of new groups, to offer suggestions and support
Guidelines for a Peer Manuscript Group
Peer-led critique groups can be essential for writers, but only if writers follow certain guidelines to keep each other safe. One of the main reasons for developing guidelines is to enable writers to receive criticism so that it is helpful. The following are guidelines that have been adopted by a local manuscript group that began meeting in 2003. We have eight members. We came together after meeting at conferences and generative writing groups.
Our manuscript group is a peer-led critique group for writers who are working on large pieces: novels, non-fiction books or short stories. It is a closed group of writers who have committed to the hard work of honestly critiquing the work of others each month and who agree to follow a method that allows for the most useful sort of feedback so that we can all advance our work.
We meet once per month. We begin at 6:30 and we start on time. Three to four writers may submit their work each month. They need to send their manuscripts to us in a Word attachment two weeks prior to the meeting. Page limit is roughly 25-30 pages, with more pages allowed if it’s a rewrite and we’ve seen it before. We select a moderator for each month, who keeps the flow going and monitors time. The moderator can also check in with the writer to be sure that she is getting what she needs from the critique. The moderator will do her best to keep the feedback productive, but there may be times when the writer receives a critique that is particularly difficult and the impact is beyond the moderator’s awareness. In this case, it is up to the writer to make contact with the person who offered feedback to ask for clarification either in the moment or within a few days.
We follow four steps during the meeting.
1. We begin with the author reading a paragraph or so to us, so that we can hear the writer’s voice.
2. Next, we share what we like and what is strongest about the piece.
3. This is followed by questions that we have for the writer, noting places where we may have felt bumped out of the piece, and places where we suggest revision.
4. After all feedback is completed, the writer can ask clarifying questions about the feedback or about particular things that she might be struggling with in the manuscript.
5. We finish by selecting our most loved sentences and reading those aloud to the writer.
We end the evening by going around with news (mostly writing news).