Creating a Supportive Critique Group

I had the great pleasure of sitting on a panel at this past When Words Collide conference about supportive critique groups. What do I know about critique groups? I know that without a critique group, I’d never have finished the first draft of my novel, Girl Tries Life. I know that I wouldn’t have learned as much about my writing, through critiquing that of others.

supportive critique group

Photo Credit: Epicantus

How to Find a Critique Group

Unless you know a lot of writers personally, a great way to start to find a critique group is to join a writing association. Most cities will have a writing group of some kind, be it genre specific or welcoming to all genres. It’s always a good thing to check. Just because a group has, say, “romance” in their title, doesn’t necessarily mean they are not welcoming to other genres. For example, I’m a member of the Alberta Romance Writers’ Association and we accept all genres, but our roots 27 years ago were in romance. Writers like other writers. We geek out on it!

If you can’t find a writing association or group, networking is your next best bet. In our world of social media, networking no longer has to mean face to face. Follow hashtags like #writingtips or #amwriting or #writerslife and start to interact and follow other writers whose tweets you enjoy. If you build up a relationship, you might begin to find your online writing community.

There are also plenty of resources online for finding critique groups, but as with anything online that isn’t tried and tested, be a little discerning. If you’re asked for a membership fee to participate, dig a little to make sure it’s a legit organization before parting with your hard earned dollars. Any other writers that know of online writing critique group resources, please share in the comments below.

Creating Ground Rules

So you’ve found your people! Hurray! But… that’s only half the battle. First off, I’d recommend a critique group no larger than 3-4 members, depending on how much you’re all willing to read. Next step, or the most critical step in my opinion, is to create some ground rules. These should include some form of the following:

  • Timing of meetings and timing of page submissions. You want to make sure there is a big enough gap between when you submit your work and how long you have to review it. Pretty sure most of us work outside of writing, along with other time constraints, so be realistic. Will you meet weekly, monthly? Will you meet via Skype or in person? All things to discuss.
  • Page count. You should have a maximum page count that you’re allowed to submit per meeting. I was in a group where the maximum was 25 pages a week. Four members, three critiques for me to read, that comes to 75 pages of reading. On top of my own writing. And life. And cats. Eesh! While it was extremely rewarding, next time I’d either go in a group of three so I would only review 50 pages a week, or I’d look for a group with a lower page count maximum.
  • Expectations of each others’ work. In many critique groups, it helps to agree upon submitting ‘clean’ copies. Critique groups are about far more than proofreading, so if you bog down your critique team with a million typos and grammatical errors, you’re not respecting their time or talent. To get the most out of your group, send clean copies that you’ve personally taken the time to edit.
  • Discuss what it means to give constructive criticism. Giving constructive feedback is different for each person. Some people have nothing in the way of a filter, so their feedback can come off quite harsh to those of us (me included!) with a less thick skin. Remember that if you’re really not enjoying your team members pages, you should ask yourself whether it’s because it’s wrong, or because it’s different. Personal taste and bias can get in the way of giving and receiving a good critique, so put on your objective hat.
  • Be up front about how you’ll deal with grievances. You might end up with one person (hopefully not more) whose critique starts to feel abusive. I really hope that this is not the case for you, but let’s face it, life happens. First step should be to try and coach your critique member to see if they can be more constructive. This goes back to asking them if they don’t like your work because it’s wrong, or it’s just not their preference. Having people describe why they don’t like something really gets to the meat of the issue. If they continue to be rude or unsupportive, it helps to have talked in your ground rules meeting about how you will all handle it. If group members need an ‘out’ at any point, they should be allowed to take it. As a writer, however, this is your opportunity to stand up for your work.

A Lesson in Being Supportive

Being supportive does not mean only saying nice things to your critique members. You are there to make them better writers and vice versa. There is, however, a way to give feedback while still being supportive. Always find something positive in their work. You need to be able to say that there was a piece of kick ass dialogue, or a character trait that you love, or even a great description. There is always something positive, so make sure you give the other writer something to hold onto, especially if it’s a hard critique.

Steer away from words like “crap”, “bad” or “awful”. You’d think this would be common sense… but common sense is not so common. Instead focus on why you don’t think something works. Is it a plot hole? Can you suggest some solutions? Part of your role is to come to the table with potential solutions or help to brainstorm them.

And, that old adage, treat someone the way that you wish to be treated. I don’t like abusive language or a lack of explanation, but I also don’t want to be molly coddled. Remember that our writing makes us vulnerable, because it’s so incredibly personal. How would you talk to someone about the thing they hold most dear?

The Benefits of a Critique Group

Let’s end on the positive. Why be part of a critique group? I could wax poetic about them for days, but here are some of the things I’ve most enjoyed:

  • Having a consistent writing community.
  • The motivation to write on a weekly basis.
  • Objectivity of my work to find the issues I was blind to.
  • People to catch my inconsistencies, be they in setting, character or plot line.
  • How editing others’ work has given me skills to be more critical of my own edits.
  • The chance to read in other genres.

In short, I LOVE critique groups. Am I in one at the moment… no, because life is pretty darn hectic, but I can’t wait to get back to it.

Are you part of a critique group? What advice do you have?

Are you looking for a critique group? Where do you plan to go to find one?

Weekly Newsletter & Free eBook!

Signup now for inspiration to live your best life

I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

, , , , , ,

2 Responses to Creating a Supportive Critique Group

  1. dianacranstoun August 21, 2015 at 8:15 am #

    Great article. I love critique groups. A few more benefits I’ve experienced include, making new – and then long lasting – friends.
    Belonging to a supportive group of like-minded people who don’t find it weird to talk about the imaginary friends in their heads.
    Even if you live so far out of town that you are unable to make your writers’ group’s regular meetings (eg ARWA) you can remain engaged, supported and connected with your fellow members though an online critique group.
    If you are a bit of an introvert and find walking into a room of ‘strangers’ intimidating – even though you might all belong to the same writing organisation – once you’ve met online through a critique group you now have an automatic ‘friend’ or friends. Suddenly the large room full of strangers doesn’t feel quite so large or intimidating anymore because you already know at least one – or more – other person.

    • Victoria Smith August 21, 2015 at 8:20 am #

      I love this! Such a great perspective. Critique groups for the win!

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes

%d bloggers like this: