by NCWA Critique Coordinator Pat Schantz
NCWA Critique Groups aspire to the principles of 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV), “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Group members are dedicated to helping each other to refine and improve their writing for the glory of God.
Individual groups may specify their own rules and standards, but the following are general guidelines for NCWA Critique Groups:
1) Pray: Before you begin each review, pray that your critique will bless the writer you are critiquing. When you finish, pray that God blesses the writer’s work and glorifies himself through it.
2) Encourage: The writer you are critiquing should feel encouraged after he or she reads your critique, even if you suggested several improvements. Be sure to have at least as many complimentary comments as constructive ones.
3) Polish: Provide thoughtful, clear comments to help the writer fix flaws to turn average into good, and good into great. Correcting spelling and syntax errors is the most rudimentary level of critiquing. Does the writing flow well; is it tight (not overly wordy)? Did the writer choose optimal verbs and nouns, with minimal adjectives and adverbs? Does the writing give glory to God?
a. Fiction: The goal of the fiction writer is to generate emotions—thrills and chills for suspense, joy, and sadness for romance; exhilaration for adventure, etc. So let your writer know if the emotions are coming through. Consider plot, character development, voice, story world, and pacing.
b. Nonfiction: Is the nonfiction writer’s thesis clear, original, and thought-provoking? Do the supporting points and evidence back up and justify the thesis? If the book is a memoir, is the subject interesting, and does the author’s voice come through?
The nature of a critique group is a commitment to helping each other. As part of an NCWA critique group, you will critique all of the submissions you receive each month. As a member in good standing, you cannot skip critiquing another member’s submission; otherwise the group will not function.
Typically, each member submits up to 2,500 words a month. Thus, if the group has four writers, each member will critique three excerpts, and in turn will receive three critiques of his or her submission.
If you have Microsoft Word on your computer, it’s best to use the Track Changes feature.
At the end of each critique, provide two or three sentences to sum up your opinion of the entire excerpt. Be encouraging. Highlight the best elements of the passage. One good technique is to relate two or three positive features, then one or two items that could be improved.
If you meet in person, be sure to maintain equity in time allotted for evaluating each member’s work. For example, if your critique meeting is scheduled for an hour and fifteen minutes and there are three members, maybe allow fifteen minutes for an intro/social time. Then each critiquer should receive equal time. Each group can decide on the amount of time, and, if necessary, an egg timer can be used to ensure fairness.
Critiquing is a very human exercise. Sometimes sparks can fly because we are dealing with our beloved creations. Remember to critique with passion and kindness. If you feel you are not getting what you should from your partners, tell them. Conversely, ask your partners if your critiques are helping them.
If you have any questions about critiquing or about groups, desire advice on a tough critique, want to know or anything else regarding NCWA critique groups, contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bottom line: God may bless each of us with a best-selling book. Or, he may bless us by inspiring us to help someone else write a best-seller. Maybe both. But “…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
God bless your writing and critiquing,
Pat Schantz, NCWA Critique Coordinator
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).