How to Form and Facilitate a Critique Group, part 2



As I wrote in my post yesterday, I presented the non-fiction critique workshop at the Catholic Writers Guild Live Conference last week. I drew from my experience as facilitator and co-facilitator of two different critique groups to demonstrate how a critique group works. I encouraged the writers to form the critique groups they need. Here are some guidelines, in two posts, the first was yesterday, "Why a Critique Group?"  Today we ask ourselves 9 questions to formulate our mission.

What’s our Mission?

  • How will we limit our membership? Will we invite members that complement our writing level and genre, and belong to the same denomination or social group? Or open the group to all writers? Keep in mind that we are forming temporary writing communities with lasting relationships.

  • How will membership develop? By invitation or as a ministry of encouragement for writers?

  • The Dallas/Fort Worth Catholic Writers began after the 2012 CWG conference as an outreach of Catholic Writers Guild. We have beginners as well as published writers of many genres.
  • The new CWG Critique and Editing Group evolved last year when Connie Rossini was writing Trusting God with Saint Therese and I was writing my third book on joy. We were both looking for a critique group when the CWG non-fiction critique forum was inactive. We started trading book chapters, critiquing and editing them online. Our partnership developed into the new CWGCG group.

3. How will the group be organized and led? Both models I facilitate need a core team with more than one facilitator.

  • Our DFWCW core group of three, has two main facilitators to lead the meetings and be timekeepers when needed. We have two meetings a month. One is a lunchtime meeting at a bookstore and one an evening meeting at the University of Dallas (UD) across the metroplex. Writers can come to either or both meetings. I’m the main contact that handles the mailing list and PSAs and lead the daytime meeting. Bernadette Waterman Ward, a professor at UD, leads the evening meeting. Lisa Nicholas created and manages our blog.
  • In CWGCG group, Connie and I alternate each month receiving and distributing manuscripts. We do everything through email.

4. How many members?

  • Most groups limit membership to four to seven.
  • Since the DFWCW group is open, when more than six writers show up, we divide into two tables.
  • The CWG group currently has five, so we can welcome one or two more.

5. Where and when will we meet?

  • The DFWCW group tried public libraries (too quiet), two restaurants (too noisy), and a bookstore coffee shop (too small) before settling on a large bookstore, centrally located, with a meeting room, Wi-Fi, big library tables, and an in-house snack bar for take-out lunches. When we added the evening meetings, Bernadette reserves a classroom during the school year. (No summer meetings at UD.)

6. How will the members take turns presenting their work?

  • The DFWCW group decided to critique during the group session with no homework vs. submitting manuscripts by email to all members one week in advance, as some groups do.
  • In the daytime group, we bring our lunch and our short manuscripts. The time allotted for each to read, usually 10-15 minutes, depends on how many come. They can provide written copies or read aloud, followed by our comments. We provide critique forms if the author wants written comments.
  • Those with no manuscript in hand can give a progress report or share their outlines or ideas. Often these discussions continue past the set closing time and writers stay as long as they want while others need to get back to work.
  • The CWGCG gets a monthly email reminder a few days before our submission deadline, the first day of the month. We encourage members to use mark-up software and insert balloon comments.  We try to get the critique back to the writer by the 20th of the month.

7. What about socializing?

  • The DFWCW group facilitators keep the group focused on writing. Brief greetings and introductions begin the meeting, with time to socialize after. We get to know each other in other settings, often helping each other with longer critiques, self-publishing, blogging, book reviews or book launches.
  • In the CWGCG, we take opportunities to share our progress, needs and prayer requests privately by email.

8. What about confidentiality? Confidentiality goes without saying, but needs to be said, especially to new members. Put it in the group’s guidelines. The whole group needs to agree not to pilfer the ideas, or talk about the work of others, except in general terms.

9. What about commitment?

  • The DFWCW group has a casual commitment with no submission or attendance requirements. Guests are welcome.
  • In the CWGCG, writers can send up to 5,000 words each month. They commit to submitting a manuscript at least once per quarter for balance. This requirement may cause a writer to drop out, but writers can’t stay interested if it is all give and no take.
  • Depending on how many members contribute, we each critique 1-3 manuscripts each month. We mark editing suggestions as we critique. Getting two or three critiques and edits is well worth reciprocating!

Presented by Nancy HC Ward on 8-1-14 at the 2014 Catholic Writers Guild Live Conference.



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About Nancy Ward

Nancy HC Ward is a journalist, author, and speaker who blogs about Catholicism, her conversion, and Christian community at,
 7 websites and 7 magazines. She loves to share her faith story and help others share theirs through her Sharing Your Faith Stories seminars, also available on DVD. She contributed four chapters to The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion. She facilitates the Dallas/Fort Worth Catholic Writers and a critique group for the Catholic Writers Guild, where she serves as a board member.
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