There’s a lot of different ways of conducting a critique group. The standard format seems to be that members show up and read a piece of their work no longer than X. Once they’re done, the other members take turns delivering critiques verbally. Usually there are rules about no one being allowed to interrupt a person delivering a critique.
Often after my group’s meetings there may be a flurry of “Okay, now that I’ve had time to think about it,” emails. Also, like I said in a previous post, our group hasn’t needed to be strict about the no-interrupting rule, but only because we’re all friends and the interruptions are generally constructive.
Sometimes groups will have a deadline to submit material, so that it can be distributed to other members and be read before the meeting. This is great if everyone can actually get the reading done, and everyone can submit something beforehand. I’d love to do this, but our group is full of people with busy day lives and, we didn’t want the less prolific or less serious writers to stop participating due to it being too much fuss. We do still have a dropbox folder where we share copies of our work and we can post it ahead of time, but reading ahead is not required.
Another thing I’ve seen done with more serious groups is a format where they would focus on longer submissions – parts of a novel, several chapters at least, distribute them to be read before a meeting, and only be reading one member’s work for each meeting. They would take turns from one meeting to the next being the writer who’s work up to be read.
Another major variation is membership and attendance. Most groups meet on a specific day of the month, or every X number of weeks, and whoever can make it comes. Of it’s a little more formal, there might be emails sent out to confirm who’s attending, so that no one ends up showing up and being the only one there. My group has a fairly small number of members so we try to make sure we have everyone for each meeting, so we email back and forth our available days each month to figure out a day when we can all be there.
Membership wise, some groups have an online space where people can discover the group and join to find out when meetings will be, and membership is immensely casual. I’ve also been to some groups who weren’t so hungry for members that I learned about through word of mouth, where I showed up unexpectedly because it was a public place, convinced them I wasn’t an asshat, and they let me stay.
One the one hand, the openness can attract new members more easily. On the other hand, one group I was in eventually had to ask one member to stop coming because he was disruptive. I’ve also stopped going to others when a disruptive member was not managed. It was with this in mind that we’ve kept my current group membership by invitation only, and our meeting locations are discussed in private emails.
Another huge advantage of the membership being more private, is if you know there’s not going to be strangers show up, the meeting doesn’t need to be held in a public place. We have held meetings in members’ apartments at times. For a long time, one of our members who lived in a retirement home had a lovely library she would book for us.
Next in the Critique Group series: how to put together your own critique group.