My previous attempts at organizing and sustaining a writers' critique group failed miserably in the past. The time involved in meeting and reading/critiquing others' work never seemed to produce enough of a benefit to make it worthwhile.
That probably seems cruel and selfish, but for most of us, writing time golden, and hard to come by, and the trade-off must be satisfying for a critique group to be worth the time or effort required.
Five other local writers and I agreed to give it a go. We all wrote in different genres, and entered with varying levels of experience. We didn't know each other well. Some of us had met previously, and some of us were complete strangers, but we had two primary commonalities--we each love to write and we each were serious about publication.
We agreed on a few manageable ground rules:
1. We would each submit ten pages to the group on the fourth Tuesday of the month.
2. We would read and critique each others' pieces.
3. We would be kind but serious about our critiques to foster professional growth.
4. We would meet on the second Tuesday of the month for two hours to discuss each others' work.
The process has worked beautifully for our group. We doubt we could manage more pages or another person, because this work load requires a sacrifice of time that is manageable without cutting too deeply into our personal writing time. Some members are more prolific than others, churning out chapters each month from which they select ten pages for review, while others can barely produce ten pages some months when other life demands are overwhelming.
During the past year, five of us have published at least one manuscript, but each of us would wholeheartedly agree that our group has made our writing stronger, that accountability has made us more dedicated to our craft, and that reviewing others' work has improved our editing skills.
I would recommend such a group to anyone who loves to write. Skill levels should complement one another, but equally important is each members' seriousness about the group and their work. Complacency and laziness are surefire group killers. Trust is important. I help you. You help me.
Someone will always be better than you. You will be better than someone else. If you're a beginner, don't be afraid to surround yourself with writers who are more experienced than you, but be courageous enough to accept competent critiquing without turning tail and burrowing away.
Likewise, be kind and respectful. Aim your comments at furthering growth and not in squashing the creativity out of a peer. Compliment and cheer for others' successes. No one understands the small, lonely victories of a query request, or breaking through a plot block like another writer.