If you decide to include critiques at your conference, here are options:

constructive criticism

It’s all about constructive criticism . . .

  • Let everyone who wishes to read have a chance and have the facilitator share what resonated best about the text.
    1. Advantage: everyone gets a positive affirmation about his or her work, which encourages more sharing, especially among newer writers.
    2. Disadvantage: some people may be left wanting more.

  • Include an option where people can submit a manuscript for critique ahead of the conference. Charge a fee for the critique; forward manuscripts (with no name attached!) to the speakers who have agreed to critique; and pay the speakers to provide detailed comments, including both kudos and constructive criticism, on the manuscripts. Return the manuscripts to their creators at the start of the conference.
    1. Advantages: critiquers have time to mull over their comments and to choose their words carefully, plus this could be a moneymaker for your conference.
    2. Disadvantages: some speakers will do a better job with critiques than others, and they may be asked to provide in-depth critique on a genre outside of their expertise; I can provide much better critiques on nonfiction and mystery novel manuscripts, for example, than I can for fantasy and horror.

writer's conference participants

  • Include a session in your conference where you pair up conference attendees with one another; have them exchange a piece of work and provide comments to one another.
    1. Advantage: this gives everyone a chance to discuss his or her writing with someone in depth.
    2. Disadvantage: not everyone is experienced enough to provide effective critiques. I remember one conference where this was done, and the woman who offered feedback on my article earnestly told me that quote marks are never allowed in nonfiction.
  • Allow time after each reading in an open mic setting for group critiques.
    1. Advantage: this allows a writer to hear multiple points of views about his or her work.
    2. Disadvantages: this can take a significant amount of time; some people are better critiquers than others; and receiving feedback from numerous people can get confusing if comments differ significantly from one another.
mix and match writer's critiques

Mix and match strategies 

You can also mix and match elements from the choices offered above (or come up with another method entirely!). For example, you might select option #4, but have the writer share the type of feedback desired before reading her work: perhaps she wants feedback on the overall theme, for example, or on the imagery used or the clarity of ideas expressed.

If you choose this method, will the writer have the opportunity to share the reasons behind certain choices or is he supposed to drink in the feedback without interacting with the critiquers? It’s normal for someone to feel defensive when her writing is being dissected, so giving her a chance to explain her reasoning can make the writer feel heard and it can give the critiquer more useful information. Or, as in the case of the young poet and her older critic that I described in part 1, it can descend into unpleasant squabbles that benefit no one.

What questions do you have? Please leave a comment below!