Critiquing Groups, part 1 -
finding the best group for you
I’ve been part of an active critiquing group for the last 14 years. I can’t tell you how much my partners have helped me. Here is a list of just some of the benefits I get from my group:
Fresh pairs of eyes to catch the mistakes I will always miss no matter how many times I check my work!
Feedback on whether what I’m trying to say is actually coming across on the page
Ideas and inspiration regarding my plots
Brainstorming and problem solving when I hit a snag
Encouragement when I’m feeling down
A kick in the butt when I’m being lazy
A passion shared to make writing less lonely
Crit groups can definitely have a downside and I consider myself lucky to have found a good one. The longer I do it, the more I realize that critiquing is an art and even with the best intentions feedback can do more damage than good.
Below are some important points to consider if you’re thinking of joining or forming a crit group.
#1 Be Ready
If you’re just starting out with writing don’t be in a hurry to join a crit group. Give yourself time to gain confidence and solidify your author voice. Experiment with all types of writing – journaling, short story, essay, blogging, poetry, etc. The good news is if you’re an avid reader you’ll have already picked up a lot about the craft of writing that will naturally find its way into your own work.
When you do feel ready to take the plunge…
#2 Choose your critiquing partners carefully.
Like any important relationship you need to be able to trust your partners. Creativity is a fragile thing and your confidence as a writer can be damaged by thoughtless or harsh criticism.
Wherever possible ‘test drive’ a group before committing to it. Even better, form your own by hand picking writers you trust and respect and who seem on the same wavelength as you.
Start by approaching some fellow writers and asking if they’ll look at a few pages of your work. Once you’ve gotten a bit of feedback identify the people who make you feel good about your writing and the ones who make you want to give up.
This doesn’t mean to seek out only people who tell you your work is great. Just find the ones who give you feedback in a way that will keep you fired up about writing. (Like master teachers, such people are few and far between but definitely worth searching for.)
#3: Choose partners who write in the same genre you do. (Or not.)
Some fiction genres – mystery, fantasy, and romance in particular – have specific reader expectations. People who write and/or read these genres will be most familiar with their unique requirements and best able to tell you if you’re fulfilling them. On the other hand having partners who write in different genres means you’ll be getting a variety of perspectives on your work.
#4: Keep It Small
Because my crit group only has 4 members, I’m not overwhelmed by masses of conflicting feedback on my work. It also means I can devote more time and thought to my partners’ work without cutting into my own writing time. Another big plus of a small group is it reduces the risk of meetings turning into talk-fests.
#5 Choose partners with the same level of commitment you have.
If you’re serious about writing and improving your skills, seek out people who feel the same. People committed to showing up to meetings, thoughtfully reading the work of others, encouraging them, helping them stay focused on their goals and who are equally keen to improve their own skills, both as a writer and a critic. Passion is contagious but so is apathy. Surround yourself with passionate people and ride the wave of your group’s collective enthusiasm.
# 6 Choose partners with similar writing goals
If you’re just after feedback on your writing this issue isn’t a must. But if your aim is to be published, you’ll be doing other things in addition to writing. Having partners who share your dream of publication means you can help each other keep an eye out for publishers, write query letters, practice pitches, compose synopsis, and even attend conferences together.
# 7 Protect Your Muse
Once you’ve joined a critiquing group continually monitor if you’re getting what you need from its members. A good crit group should be the wind beneath your creative wings, encouraging you to believe in yourself, take creative risks and move past rejections. If you constantly come away from meetings feeling discouraged and depressed it’s time to look elsewhere for support. Avoid like the plague:
people who give only negative feedback and never say what’s good about your work
people who try to rewrite your work in their own words
people who criticize just to show how much they know or make themselves look superior
anyone with low standards who thinks ‘close enough is good enough’