Believe me, without a format, things can get messy. Egos get bruised, critiques don't happen, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together - mass hysteria.
So there are a couple ways to go about it. I've done both, so I'll try to outline the advantages/disadvantages.
Option 1. Everyone makes copies of his or her submission before the first meeting and hands them out then for everyone to take home and comment on. Put a page limit - maybe 10-15. Spend the first meeting drinking lattes and getting to know each other.
Everyone brings submissions back the following meeting, and you pick names out of a hat for who goes first. Anyone who gets skipped for lack of time is written down to go first at the next meeting. Seriously - keep track of this. People get pissed if they don't get a turn, and rightly so.
- Advantages: In-depth critiques and you get a lot critiqued at one time.
- Disadvantages: Not everyone has time to take a monstrous stack of handouts home and do them justice. This is probably best for smaller critique groups - maybe around 6 or less.
Option 2. Everyone makes copies of his or her submission (5 page limit), brings them to the critique meeting, and reads work to the group right there for a critique. The group marks on a copy as the author reads. After he or she is finished, members take turns making overall comments. I recommend taking turns, or less talkative people (like moi) don't get heard.
- Advantages: Instant gratification. Plus hearing the work can really highlight bumpy parts. You can make fewer copies (group members can share a copy for marking). People who are really crunched for time don't have to do homework. It all gets done at the meeting.
- Disadvantages: Only a small amount gets critiqued and it may not be as in-depth. Plus, some people read like Bill Clinton at a fundraiser and the writing can seem better than it is, or they sound like Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller. Anyone? Anyone? and the writing sounds less compelling. Also, us introverts get nervous about reading.
Those are the formats I've experienced. Modifications to each are certainly not out of the question, according to your group's needs. Some people email their stuff and insert comments in the document.
But whatever format you choose, this is not a democracy. If you are the critique group organizer, seize control like the little dictator you are and don't present any options at first. We all know what discussing things in committee is like. You can always adjust the format as issues come up. But someone needs to be the fearless leader. I nominate you.
Next blog: Tips and Warnings for running Critique Meetings in an orderly fashion, dammit.
Links to this post and all previous posts on starting a critique group can be found on the right under FAQ.