All I need to know about Critique Groups I learned in kindergarten

Don’t forget your manners! We’ve all heard an adult tell us this at one time or another. When joining a critique group, it’s important to mind your manners in order to have a successful, creative support system.

A long time ago, I read a little book by American minister and author Robert Fulghum called All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Fulghum outlines the basic manners and life skills we learn in kindergarten. These principles also reflect the fundamentals of proper critique-group behavior.

For the sake of those who are new to the idea of critique groups or those who could use a refresher, here are a couple rules of etiquette to keep in mind:

  1. Share everything: Participate, don’t dominate. Share the time you have in your group so that everyone gets a turn. Wait your turn and listen. Allow your group to share with you! Share ideas, constructive criticism and be honest.
  2. Play fair: Be nice and encouraging. The work you are critiquing is just as important to the person who wrote it as your work is to you. Be sure to meet the page requirements and time slots agreed upon by your group.
  3. Don’t hit people: Also translated as: don’t hurt people. Be mindful of your words and mindful of the values of your group.
  4. Put things back where you found them: Be aware of the space your group is meeting in. If it’s at a member’s house, respect that and their willingness to host. If anything was moved to accommodate you or your group, be nice and give them a hand to clean up after group is done.
  5. Clean up your own mess: In addition to putting things back, keep in mind your messes. Help clean up shared spaces before and after you meet with your group.
  6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours: Celebrate the ideas of others in your group and learn from them, don’t take them as your own.
  7. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody: Or better yet, don’t hurt anyone in the first place. Be gentle in your critiquing and be receptive to the critiques of others. First and foremost, be open and not defensive.
  8. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you: Enjoy a critique group meeting with snacks. But don’t let fine baked goods dominate your time or conversation!
  9. Live a balanced life: Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. Be creative and be inspired by your group. Allow for diversity and be open to new ways of writing and language use that you may not have known before.
  10. Take a nap every afternoon: Don’t come to critique group tired. And if you do, try not to be grumpy and give your group fair warning.
  11. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic,
    hold hands, and stick together:
    Allow your critique group to be a support system. Build relationships and accountability. Be sure you are contributing as much as you are benefiting.
  12. Be aware of wonder: Allow the Lord to work in and through your group. Enjoy the time you share and explore the wonder of the written word!

If you are not yet part of a critique group, be aware of the etiquette you need to exercised as a non-group members as well. NCWA allows new members to sit in on critique groups to watch and see how they operate. Before sitting in on a group, please contact the critique-group coordinator for permission and group meeting times. Once you have been granted the privilege to sit in, you must be quiet and observe. Please keep opinions to yourself as you are not yet a part of the group and this takes away from their scheduled time.

After you sit in on a group, you will no doubt get the critique-group bug. When you do, contact Sarah Madson, the Critique Group Coordinator at

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