Monday, September 09, 2013

Rules for Critique Groups

by Rhonda M. Hall

I have belonged to a writing group for close to nineteen years. We debated back and forth for a long time about the need for rules. Years ago, I took our real rules and twisted them a bit.

We welcome all genres but the following: pornography, erotica, and non-fiction of any kind, and anything we don’t like.

Don’t discuss personal matters during the meeting, it’s not fair to rub your fantastic life into our faces. We’re here for one reason and one reason only, to ruin your life as you know it. When you leave the room crying we have met our goal. If you become a “regular,” you’ll get a members’ list with everyone’s telephone number, address, and electronic address for stalking purposes only. You can use these to keep your gossip greased or whine about these rules.


Sessions on the first Wednesday of the month are reserved for readings only–no lessons. During the rest of the month, if there is time at the end of the meeting, members read portions of their works-in-progress. Tripping other members, so that you might take their spot is strictly forbidden, unless of course, I’m the one who doesn’t get to read.

The facilitator will determine the amount you may read. She/he also has the right to stop you if the work is offensive, inappropriate, or if you put us to sleep. If your work is putting everyone into a coma, congratulations you’ll probably be published in two months.

Don’t ask to read more than the allotted number of pages. (SELFISH) We don’t care if the Pulitzer deadline is just around the corner. You should plan ahead. Besides, we’re too wrapped up in wondering why we weren’t nominated to even listen. Please don’t take offense if members take out little dolls that look like you and stick pins in them. That pain in your neck is purely a coincidence. But not to worry, we have Chiropractors on retainer!

Do not explain your work. (Frankly, we don’t give a damn) If it requires explanation, then it isn’t ready for presentation. The setup should be included in the story. However, other members may ask that you bring them up to date. Do this as briefly as possible.(YAWN) We don’t need a psychological profile for each character, or for you, we don’t care that your mama spanked you.

Articulate and speak loudly. We can’t critique what we can’t hear. If you fail to comply, the rest of the evening will require you to stand at the podium on one foot while we eat your French fries.

Do not interrupt those reading. This includes acknowledging the arrival of another member or whispering to the person next to you. Miming is permissible. A giant wave of the hand and/or blowing a kiss is acceptable. The only time this rule may be ignored is when the individual entering the room is armed and appears to be hostile. (It only happened once, we swear.)

Don’t read something you’ve already read unless it has changed drastically and at least a year has gone by. (YAWN) Also please do not explain past critiques, we are critiquing what you just read, not what was written three years ago. If this is rewrite number forty-two, make it forty three!

If your piece has already been edited or published, leave it at home. It’s too late for us to be of any benefit and you’re wasting the time of those who want to get where you are. Don’t rub it in their faces. It’s not nice.(SOB, as in crying, not son of -B*****)


Critiquing begins with the person to the left of the reader and goes clockwise around the room. Critiques are usually written in brief form on notes which are given to the writer to mull or cry over later. On the first and third Wednesdays of the month, that fall into a month with an “R”, we go to the person on the right, spin and then we all shout. “THAT’S WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT!”

Be truthful. (Or lie, like the rest of us.) Saying its National Book Award material when it wouldn’t even make it as casual bathroom reading won’t help the writer. Always include something positive. There’s always a plus in everyone’s effort. No, saying you’re glad they have finally finished reading doesn’t count.

If you are really at a loss for something nice to say, hide out in the bathroom with the rest of us.

Do not interrupt the individual critiquing. Wait your turn. You should have learned this in kindergarten. Once you become a member, your kindergarten teachers name must be forwarded to the facilitator, if you fail to comply, we will contact him/her.

Do not repeat a criticism already presented. Most members get it the first time. If they don’t get it, stand on your chair, shout and wring your hands.

If another member opposes your critique, don’t argue the point. The writer will decide what’s best, or probably ignore you anyway.

As the reader/author, do not debate the criticism. You can take it or leave it. Some of it is only opinion anyway. We prefer you take it and run with it. We like it when no talents take our ideas and steal them.

If you don’t understand, do not ask for a lesson until after the session. (Brown Noser) The facilitator or one of the other learned members can help you after the meeting.

The facilitator may schedule instruction in the problem area at a later date. Your kindergarten teacher will also be available. Many counseling sessions have taken place at Skyline Rest home. (They love us there.) In the meantime, research it yourself. It will be good for you.

Do not talk amongst yourselves while the critiquing is going on. Any note passing will result in the facilitator reading your note aloud to the entire class. You could learn something. Hard to believe, we know, but you really could. Also, if there is any gum chewing, please be sure you brought enough for everybody.


When a reader/author points to their head and says, “Internal,” they are indicating characters internal thoughts, not what they really think of you.” IE… “Internal, Point to the head, I hate it when John shows up for class.”

When a reader/author says, “Drop down, everyone will drop to the floor and put their hands behind their heads. (It stems from that one armed incident.) P.S. We love pulling this on the new-be’/ wanna’be’s.

If you refuse to follow any of the suggestions (improve), then stop coming. If you’re already perfect, you don’t need us and we don’t want to listen to you. Happy Writing!

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