Are You Happy With Your Critique Group?

Writing is a solitary occupation. At the same time, no one climbs this mountain without help. Often that help comes in the form of critique groups. 

I’ve belonged to face2face groups and online groups, sometimes at the same time. You get something a little different from both, but whether you choose one or the other (or have the luxury of both), you need a critique group. You know I’m right . (Can I get an Amen?)

Don’t get me wrong. Having your spouse or a family member or even a friend reading what you’ve written isn’t a bad thing. My first reader is one of my oldest friends (Hi Ella!) and she’s the only person who gets to read the raw version of what I’ve written. She’s my cheerleader. She keeps me pumped. (That’s a big job sometimes.) And she’s unbelievably willing to read my evolving story over and over and over again. Believe me when I say I am blessed to have her. She’ll even kick ideas around with me when I’ve written myself into a corner.

But she's not a writer.

You get something different when you share with other writers. You know that’s true. That’s why I see so many folks looking for critique groups online. Some of you found what you were looking for. Others, I'm sure, have been members of groups but didn’t find what you needed. Maybe you don’t really know what was missing but you still knew it wasn’t working for you.

So let’s look at what the criteria of a good fit is.

First, it’s important that the writers you’re sharing with understand what you’re writing.

Let me repeat that.

It’s important that your critique buddies understand what you’re writing.

While good writing is good writing no matter what the topic, science fiction has different conventions than mysteries which has different conventions than memoirs which has different conventions than romance and so on and so forth. Even within the genre, there are different conventions. One of the conventions of Chick Lit, for example, is that it’s written in first person POV, so if Chick Lit is what you write, it’s not just counterproductive if you have a critique buddy who hates first person narration so much that they regularly harp on it, it will undermine your confidence.

Second, it’s important that your critique buddy “gets” your vision.

I don’t care how great I think another writer is, if they don’t “get” my story (or if they just really dislike my vision), they’re not a good partner for me and they won’t be for you.

“Getting” the story isn’t quite the same thing as actively liking the story, but that's important, too. If you and your buddy don’t like each others’ stories or if your writing styles annoy each other, you won't be writing buddies for long. Not only will you be back to looking for a new buddy, but the quality of the feedback you get (and give) won’t be as good as it is when you like the stories you’re reading.

Now I’ve read mixed opinions of partnering with different skill levels and I can see arguments on both sides.

If all of your partners are roughly the same level as you, you all learn together. The downside is that it can take a long time to learn your craft this way because someone in your group has to reinvent the wheel for every advance made. The upside is they’ll all share that learning with you (if they’re truly committed to the group dynamic), so you’re still learning faster than you would on your own.

Is it advantageous to have a partner who is more advanced than you are? Of course, it is. But consider this. Where’s the advantage to them of having a partner they have to teach? What do you have to offer them? Looked at that way, you may think you don’t have anything to offer a more advance partner, but that’s not true. You just have to work harder and play to your strengths. (We’ll go into this deeper in a moment.)

Whatever the composition of your writers’ group, what we’re all looking for are writing buddies who will make the journey with us. Every time you have to initiate a new buddy, you lose ground. I know this well. For reasons y’all aren’t interested in hearing, I started writing romance after I’d reached an intermediate skill level. The group who taught me my skills are people I would have loved to have kept in my personal circle, but as I already pointed out, when you changed genres, your old buddies don’t fit any longer.

It’s been a different and difficult road since then. I’ve found and lost many a potential partner. One I particularly regret was a true wordsmith. (I, on the other hand, am a storyteller, and yes, there’s a significant difference.) I believe we could have learned a lot from each other, but she drifted away and, I think, quit writing.

Right now I have a writing buddy I’m very attached to. We found each other in Critique Circle, where she admitted to being a newbie writer. Her writing reflected this, but what’s made her stand out from other newbies I’ve spent time with is how fast she learns, which I think is a side-effect of how determined she is.

So what does she have to offer me?

First, I think she’ll go the distance. That’s important. She’s made the statement that she can’t afford to lose me as a critique buddy. While that’s always nice to hear, more importantly, it tells me she’s serious about turning into a real writer.  She’s certainly got the determination and thick skin you need to make it in this business.

Second, she’s a plotter. And I mean a plotter with a capital P. She knows exactly where her story is going and what the major turning points will be before she writes the first word. I do okay at plotting, but at heart, I’m a pantser. For me, plot grows out of character, which means I sometimes get hung up on a plot point and my thinking gets in a rut. I have no problem imagining her being able to offer me solutions that will light up my world.

Another advantage to having writing buddies is that if they find a publisher before you do, you’ll have a connection that could pay off in a big way. Even better, when you “make it,” you’ll have someone who knows how rutted the road you traveled was and who will celebrate with you (even if they’re across the country.)  There’s an old saying: There’s no friends like old friends. There’s a lot of truth in that. And just coz you’ve made it doesn’t mean they’re no longer valuable. There’s always that next book that’s going to need honest feedback from someone who loves your style.

There’s more to say about this subject, but this post is already long enough. (I think next week I may talk about what kind of critique groups are out there.) In the meantime, do you have a writing buddy or critique group? How do they contribute to your writing journey?


  1. Great points on the advantages of having a CP who fits your genre, voice, and vision. So true. I had to give up one of my VERY FAVORITE CPs because as wonderful as she is, she just wasn't a match for the line I'd been contracted with. It was a tough decision to make, because WOW did she have a lot to offer...only for a different genre :-)Mira

  2. I love this post. SO true. Sometimes we have to give up the things we love because they don't fit anymore - like my jeans from Freshman year in highschool wahhh.
    I'm in between a CP - I have two other CPs, but I like to have 3 because each offers different things. THis is a hard spot to be in, because it is SO hard to find a new one. THanks for the encouraging post.

  3. I have a face-to-face group with writers of varying interests/skill levels and have joined a romance online crit group. I'd like to have an accountability buddy, but there's no RWA chapter here (I know, start one, eh?). I need someone to sit with 2x month and hash out fresh copy. If I look long enough I'll find it. Interesting post.

  4. Great Post, I'm struggling with crit buds now. Not them, it's me trying to find time to pay back crits owed. New releases and contracts eat up free time, but that's a good thing.

  5. This was a great post. Thank you for sharing. I have had both an online and in person critique grup and both worked well for me, but and there is a but... none of my writing critique groups had people in them that were wiritng the same genere as me. (All were romance writers) but none the same genre which makes it oh so hard for them to know just what they need to be pointing out whetjer it be something is missing or you have too much of this. Don't get me wrong. I have loved all of my critique partners and withou them I would never have finished my first manuscript.

    I am now on my second and at this point I do not have a crit partner, but I don't think I will be looking for one until this ms is complete.


    Micole Black

  6. I agree but for me one person is better than least if they 'get' my writing and like the genre I write in. With one person, another writer, you can keep each other on track, spur each other on and have time to get really into depth with the work. For me, more people are overwhelming, both in what I have to do as well as receiving many differing opinions...

    On line is another matter all together--

    Thanks for the post!

  7. I love my critique group. We've gotten really close over the year and three months we've been together. I know it's not typical, but my critique group is like my second family. We value each other's opinions, and we are very honest in our critiques. Still we are completely respectful of each other as writers. We point out each other's weaknesses and praise each others strengths. Even though we have set schedules for critiques, we always do more than that--critiquing extra because we love to help each other. Right now we've all had success with magazine publishing and some of use have had books published or have books coming very soon. I'm so glad I found a group that I really click with and I can depend on to help me become a better writer.

  8. Helpful. Thanks. I finally paid a professional to read my memoir. My dream in life is to find and develop a little group of three or four people. We'll meet once a week at Book Bums for coffee and our stories. I also dream I will be able to fit into my wedding dress again. Not sure which dream is most likely to happen first.

  9. Great post. It is difficult to find a great CP. Also, you might find one then change the genre you write, which is a new complication. I love my CP's and hope it will be a long relationship. :)

  10. As a newbie, I took five pages a month to my RWA meeting and got great feedback, but that wasn't enough. Though from that group I found a great critique partner and friend;I value her input. She is at the same level as me. I also found someone at a higher level at Savvy willing to give feedback and her insights have really pushed my writing to the next level (thanks, Melinda). I'm in this to the end because I love writing an reading and honored to read someone's work as it progresses. Marian

  11. I found my critique group by joining the League of Utah Writers. Our group has fluctated from 6 - 10 people, which has it's own challenges. I've found them indispensible. So often they show me where I'm lacking and my work would not be what it is without them. Although we are many, I find that an advantage. Our genre's differ but there's a couple of people to represent each genre when you need specifics and from those of a different genre I still get terrific feedback on writing constants--plot, character arch, suspension of disbelief, etc.

  12. Fantastic post. I'm searching for a perfect CP or CG right now, and I have a much better idea of what I'm looking for after reading this!

  13. I've been with the same critique partner for over a year now! We're a good fit. We've tried to expand to 3-4 writers, but we've found it's hard to find writers that are committed and not flaky.


  14. Thanks for the interesting post. I've been in four critique groups and I'm with Red Roses right now, which I'm pretty happy with.

    I can't count how much help I've had with my first published book. But there was a lot of good friend and critique buddies along with my favorite writer group (AWH, which is sadly closed now) that was more than willing to give me a hand or a shoulder to cry on.

    I couldn't have done it without them.


  15. I enjoy reading your stories. It's fun to bounce ideas back and forth. I do not like to write, but I do love to read. I look forward to many more stories in the future. Thanks Pal. Ella

  16. I have a face-to-face critique group, but we all have different interests and only share short stories. I have no writing partner yet, but know I will find the right one someday.
    Critique Circle had taught me a lot about the craft of writing, and that's priceless considering how expensive workshops and writing classes could be.
    Thanks for this great post.

  17. Interesting post. I agree with you. Finding the right group is both uplifting and helpful. I'm happy with critique circle.