Saturday, September 28, 2013

Critique Groups Are a Necessity

Writing a book? Then start finding readers now. I'm not talking your mom or your cousin or your best friend's brother. Yes, I asked all of them to read my first draft, but a necessary part of the writing process is finding a good critique group.

A few pointers, because now that I've been doing this a few years, I've also been with a couple of groups and through several types of crit processes. Writers come in many shapes and skill levels, so matching yourself with a compatible set of people can be tricky and emotional.

Critique Group Hint #1

Be open-minded but selective. One of hardest jobs is actually finding a group of people who want to be part of a writing group. Pulling together a motley gang is okay, at first. I've done it through conferences and friends of friends and professional clubs. Give your group a few sessions before you decide whether the members are a fit for you and you for them. If you all write the same genre, that may be good, but it also can suffer from not having a fresh perspective. An exception: if you write poetry, better find a few other poets. By session two or three, you should know if your group feels right. If it doesn't, FOR ANY REASON, then don't be afraid to back off.

Critique Group Hint #2

It's best if each member receives a critique at every meeting. If you meet once a month, everyone should get a turn in the hot seat. If you don't, your incentive to attend/read/critique will be low. Time management techniques during the meeting should allow everyone to receive attention on his/her work. Don't underestimate the importance of this suggestion. A critique group is sometimes the ONLY place a writer will put out his/her work for others to read. It's important each writer get individual feedback every time. Otherwise, critiquing just feels like homework with no pizza party at the end. Set limits on page counts or time for each writer, and stick with the limits so everyone has a chance. 

Critique Group Hint #3

How the session is run is less important than good feedback. I've been in groups that don't require writers to read the other members' work beforehand; I've been in groups that give both written critique and verbal critique; I've been in groups where each member must read aloud before the critique; I've been in groups that set no limit on the number of pages submitted. I've lived with timers, eaten desserts, carpooled, and gone one-on-one. Whatever your method, the most important piece is that your partners give HONEST feedback. Honest is better than glazed over, or too general, or falsely positive. You want to hear what they really think. In detail. How this process unfolds is less important.

Critique Group Hint #4

You will hear criticism. This is the place to hear it. If you can't take it now, you sure won't be able to take it when you receive poor reviews. Granted, people are opinionated. People are mean. People are downright snakes in the grass. But if you listen, really listen, to critiques of your work, it will get better. Themes about how you execute your stories will float to the surface. Maybe they won't be such great messages, but ignore them with your eyes wide open. And keep writing. I do believe that there is no WRONG writing. Don't ever believe that what you've written is something to be ashamed of or makes you a lesser person. It's your creative output. Be proud of it. Be humbled by it. And, if you listen closely enough to your heart and your critique partners, it can be great.

Now, many thanks to my critique partners, Marlene, Linda, D'Norgia, on Tuesdays and my downtown ladies, Sally, Alice and Judy. Thank you for having me in your writing lives.


  1. So wish I actually had time to be a part of a critique group. I send my book out to relatively interested random friends, and then really asked a few I thought would be committed. In all, I got only three real responses from the roughly twenty people I allowed access. (Sigh) in the end, it looks like my own harsh eye is going to have to be the primary critic for this one.

    1. I'd say three is a good start. Do you know an English major? A fiction-reading buff? They are always the best to recruit. Finding a crit cohort can be daunting, but if you put enough feelers out you might find a set of writers who want to exchange feedback on the same sched as you. It can be laid-back or rock-n-roll, depending on what you want and who you find.


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