I'm not sure what made me pick critique groups as a topic today, but there you go. It's a topic that will never go away (for creative types, that is) and there's always more to learn about them. I won't get all pedantic on you, though. I'll just mention a few things that have made critique situations work for me.
Hint 1.Join a critique group. It's good experience. We all need experience. Even if it's not the best match right away. Why? Because you need the experiences of: having your material read and receiving criticism and reading other people's material and giving criticism. Think of it as a class with a test every time you meet, not a popularity contest.
Hint 2. Leave your ego at the door. Humility not hubris. Remember your goal of making your story the best that it can be. Be open to what people are saying, not defensive (this is difficult).
Hint 3. Don't hog the floor time. Be gracious and fair. Succinct. Concise. Got it?
Hint 4. Do your homework. Give your fellow writers (and their manuscripts) the respect they deserve. Don't leave reading until the last minute with half-hearted comments. This is also a difficult one. We all have busy lives but it is possible to make time. How committed are you to your dream? This is serious. Give it your all because you expect your peers to.
Hint 5. Mind your manners. That's right. I shouldn't have to say it, but sometimes people get whipped into a frenzy and forget. Be nice. Golden Rule and all that.
Hint 6. Show up. Yep, I know. Another obvious one, but apparently it's needed. If you are part of a critique group and you have a scheduled meeting, but nothing to show or share, go anyway. Give your feedback, be committed to the success of the group. If you absolutely can't make it, it's understandable, but don't expect everyone to change their schedules to suit yours. Doesn't hurt to ask, though.
Hint 7. Neutral territory or rotating hosting is recommended. Fairly self-explanatory, but I'll spell it out. Always meeting at one person's home may have the psychological effect of 'critique group ownership' real and/or perceived. It gets tricky once that sets in.
Hint 8. Don't let your group turn into a social gathering. I know this sounds uptight, so don't take it too literally. Be professional, do your business first, then pleasure, that's all. I know people that lament the fact that they're in a group with great people, but nothing gets accomplished. Remember why you are in a group and if you don't know why, then figure it out fast.
Hint 9. Remember that the people in the group don't have to be your friends or confidants. It's okay to maintain a professional distance. In fact, it's a really good idea, at least until you are well established in the group.
Hint 10. Leave the group when it's the right time. This is a hard one to see sometimes. I'm not saying that you will always have to leave a group, but it's very difficult to have a group of creative types together over long periods of time with out personal dynamics getting in the way. Don't have unrealistic expectations. Also, needs, minds, and goals change. Listen to your intuition and get on with it. Yes, you'll find (or create) a group (or partnership) that works better for you.
Well, that pretty much covers some of the more pressing issues about critique groups. Next time I'll put out some great ideas for critique group rules. Enjoy the weekend wherever you are.