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How to Start a Writing Critique Group

How to Start a Writing Critique Group
Lessons

    Did you say you were going to start writing that book this year? If you’re looking for a way to honor your word(s) and put your writing life in action, starting a writing critique group will catapult your accountability and get you in community with your peers. It will also sit you next to writers who have an intention to publish. At the very least it will help you develop your craft to the point of submission (no, I don’t mean groveling, it just feels that way).

    At best, critique groups are supportive, constructive, attuned to the work not personality, and usually peopled by well-read, life-educated, published, or almost-published writers. At worst, well, that’s another post.

    Before You Begin, Stop Reading Writers’ Memoirs

    Many writers feel writing groups are an admission of weakness or lack of talent. Some think they’re boring wastes of time. If you really want to be in action about your writing, you will need to stop listening to famous authors who write about hating groups. They just want to be able to smoke in public, and since that’s not altogether legal or healthy they decline invitations and make up stories about being tethered to their muse on a pirate ship in high seas with a bottle of scotch.

    How to Create a Community of Your Peers

    • If you are unsure about leading the group yourself, consider hand-picking a writer who is experienced with the process to work with you to get the group off the ground, and to keep the structure and guidelines in place over time.
    • If you can’t find what you want, generate it. Meetup.com is a great place to gather like-minded souls in your geographic area.
    • Independent bookstores, calendar listings in newspapers, community message boards and coffee shops are also good places to get the word out, post flyers, etc.

    Structure and Guidelines

    1. Define the Scope: Do you want a genre-focused group, or a general purpose fiction group? Short stories? Novels? Non-fiction?

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    2. Create a Starting Intent: Do you want to write and submit stories for publication? Or do you want to simply work on craft? Or both?

    3. Gather Your Peeps: When people call to join, take notes and get a sense of their readiness and intent. Look for diversity (age, background, preferred genres, etc.) to create a rich critique experience.

    4. Decide on Numbers: Keep the number of members limited. Four or five is a good starting place. If one person leaves the group, replace them with a new writer. Fill empty spots by invitation and agreement by the group. This will build trust, ownership and respect in your group.

    5. Establish Meetings: Find a time/day that honors writers’ lives (work, family). One evening every two weeks in the evening, or a weekend day set at an odd-but-doable time is easier to remember (1:23 p.m.). Once a month, or twice monthly is usually better than weekly as it gives writers a chance to write/edit in between meetings. Two hours is generally the right amount of time for a group of five. Any more time than that and energy starts to wane.

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    6. Determine Locations: Move meetings from house to house, or find a coffee shop or meeting space that can accommodate a group of raucous writers.

    7. Submitting Work: Create a deadline for submitting work to each other by email. If you meet every two weeks, try setting the week in between as the submission deadline to allow readers enough time to read and comment.

    8. Giving Critique: Critique the writing, not the writer. Find what works, what doesn’t. Speak as objectively as possible, as if the writer is absent. “This passage is confusing…perhaps another word here would work better…I want to know more…There is a POV shift in this section…too much use of progressive tense…passive voice, needs more thrust…your story really starts on page 4…” Upon completion, provide the writer with your edits and notes on hard copy. Give writer a moment to explain unanswered questions. Don’t wad the writer’s work into balls and toss them.

    9. Receiving Critique: Be quiet! Sit back and take notes. Let the questions and comments fly. Take it all in. Answer questions at the end, if necessary. Don’t defend or throw heavy objects.

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    10. Critique Structure: Calculate critique time based on length of meeting and numbers in the group, allowing for hellos and transitions. If your group is larger, you may want to divide up critiques every two weeks.

    11. Socializing: Beyond the very reasonable, don’t socialize too much during group time. It will eventually crumble the will of the group. Get to know each other in other ways. Sleep with them if you have to, but just keep the details out of the group.

    12. Confidentiality: Make an agreement with the whole group that you will not steal ideas, or talk about the work, except in general terms.

    13. Commitment:
    Discuss and determine as a group how you want to handle breaks, respites and waning commitments. Life happens. Sometimes people don’t show up, or arrive late or unprepared, or travel for extended periods. Ask yourselves how you want to support each other, how tight or loose you want to be with commitment to the group, etc. It’s a choice, not a make-wrong.

    14. Ghost Stories: I just put this here because I thought 13 guidelines would set off the superstitious among you.

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    Get ready for your writing life to change!

    If you’d like to add to these guidelines, please jump into the comment box. See you there.

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    Last Updated on September 16, 2019

    How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

    How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

    You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

    We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

    The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

    Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

    1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

    Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

    For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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    • (1) Research
    • (2) Deciding the topic
    • (3) Creating the outline
    • (4) Drafting the content
    • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
    • (6) Revision
    • (7) etc.

    Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

    2. Change Your Environment

    Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

    One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

    3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

    Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

    Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

    My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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    Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

    If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

    Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

    I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

    5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

    I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

    Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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    As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

    6. Get a Buddy

    Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

    I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

    7. Tell Others About Your Goals

    This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

    For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

    8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

    What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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    9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

    If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

    Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

    10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

    Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

    Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

    11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

    At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

    Reality check:

    I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future.  Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

    More About Procrastination

    Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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