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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

How to Start a Critique Group - Part 4 Managing Your Critique Group

As promised, way longer ago than I shall mention, I have some humble words of advice on how to manage your critique group for maximum efficiency.

Writers mostly sit by themselves composing works they fervently hope will be read. So sometimes when we get out in public, we act like the nine-year-old weird kid (I grew out of it beautifully) who never had any friends.

When a group of popular kids walks up and asks them to play kickball in their critique group, the new kid misses the ball for trying too hard and develops diarrhea of the manuscript. He or she is so excited, amnesia strikes that anyone else has writing to share. It’s all about US.

So you need a few personality types to manage us problem children:

A Manager – You need someone to keep track of who wants to read, who has read recently, and who is up for their turn. A notebook and an office-manager type work fine. This keeps people from getting ticked they haven’t had a turn when they should. You may also want this person to send out any announcements or email updates about the group.

A Bad Cop – You need that person (who is not me) who says, “Stop doing that.” If a fellow writer:
1.Takes too long to critique
2. Tries to read more than the rules allow
3. Reads something they want to share rather than actually have critiqued
4. Assassinates writing rather than critiquing
5. Gets way off the topic of writing when discussing what caliber your bullet should be or how railroads started in the 1800’s (we all do this on occasion)

The Bad Cop steps in and swings the proverbial nightstick. He or she points out the crime and gives a warning.

I’d give this job to a specific person so they know they have to step up – kinda like you need to point to a specific person and say “Call 911” instead of addressing the crowd. Everyone always thinks someone else will do it unless you ask them specifically.

The Bad Cop saves critique time and keeps problems from poisoning the group atmosphere.

A Good Cop – Sometimes feelings can get hurt after the bad cop points out a problem. The good cop can sweep up behind them, moderate the criticism, and keep the group from fragmenting under disagreement. This person will acknowledge what everyone is saying, soothe hurt feelings, and make people feel a welcome, valuable part of the group by pointing out their strengths in critique after a weakness has been highlighted like a gassy blue neon sign.

These jobs can rotate between members, or be combined if say your manager type may make a good bad cop or good cop too.

There will still be problems. Add people into the mix, and you always have differences of opinion and conflicting personality types. But having these specific jobs filled by someone in your group can make things run much more smoothly and keep anyone from getting tossed up against the wall and frisked for writer-just-let-out-of-her-cage behavior.

I really love my critique group, but it took me several group trials to find the right fit. That's okay. People, strangely enough, do not have the same opinions about everything. A writer must find the group for them - or follow these posts and create one that works the way he or she does. I hope everyone considers a critique group in the new year. My group has helped me get two pieces published so far - and helped me make them works I'm proud to wave as clips.

Coffee and Critique Writers Group meetings resume on January 8th at 10:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. If you live near enough, I hope to see you there.

Links to this post and all previous posts on starting a critique group can be found on the right under FAQ.


Anonymous said...

I LOVE the roles you use to manage your work together! It's very, I don't know, differentiated of you. I should make some kind of small peer group conference (for writing workshop) with such roles. Kids would LOVE the titles "good cop" and "bad cop". I always have group roles like timekeeper, presenter, recorder, taskmaster etc. for group discussions. But your "critique group" roles really take that up several notches!

glasshut said...

It's really the badges that hooked us ;)

Tricia Grissom said...

I think it's great you assign roles to your students' groups. And that you put them in groups! I always ended up getting the scut work in school group work when I was younger.

Yep, glasshut, the badges are pretty nifty. Along with the nightstick.

glasshut said...

I usually got stuck with the screw up popular guy who wanted me to do all the work so he could get a good grade. And, of course, I didn't want to get a bad grade, so... I did all the work.

Anonymous said...

Student group work is good stuff - somewhat unpredictable, in both good and bad ways. I don't mind that students fight for comfortable roles, like the outgoing kid always wants to be presenter, though I make them rotate usually. I DO mind unfair work loads. It's always a juggling act for me monitoring the groups and for group members.

I think the good/bad cop model is worth trying for student peer conferences/critiques. We usually tell students to do both - be positive AND offer suggestions for improvement. It's always better to break down tasks.