Critique Groups: Pro/Con

Several years ago another published writer and I presented a debate at a conference we were attending. She took the positive position regarding critique groups, I took the negative. At that time I saw a lot of negatives to critique groups; since then, I’ve changed my mind.

Oh, many of the points I made that day still hold true. 1) Critique groups can stifle creativity. A writer can get so she slants her writing to meet the expectations of the group, may consciously or subconsciously write scenes and chapters he knows will meet with approval rather than coming up with something original. 2) The work of a critique group’s members may all start to sound the same.  Rather than an individual voice, the group may create a “group” voice. This is especially true if the members have not established their own individual voices. 3) A critique group can confuse a writer.  Often a writer will get conflicting information. Some members will like a piece, others will shred it. The result is the writer doesn’t know what to think or do. 4) A harsh critique can discourage a writer. If a member or members totally shred a piece, especially if this critiquer is published, the writer may feel she should simply give up. Many new writers question whether they have the talent to be published and a critique of this nature can make them give up before they’ve had a chance to learn the craft.

Because I do believe the above negatives can occur, picking which critique group to belong to is important, as well as if or when to join one. Some writers simply don’t need feedback as they work on a story. For those writers, a group is not as important as finding a Beta reader or readers after the work is finished. Other writers do need a group to see if certain scenes are working or to simply push themselves to keep working. Sometimes knowing the group will be meeting in a few days and you need to have something ready by then is the push a writer needs to sit down and produce.

I have been lucky in the past to belong to three different critique groups, all of which were helpful, but often in different ways. One group focused specifically on the mystery genre. That group was helpful because the members (there were only 3 of us) read mysteries and knew the expectations of that genre. Another group (much larger) wrote in a variety of genres.  With that group the writing often became the focus: was the piece well written in terms of grammar and spelling, and was it clear to the reader what was happening. I loved the diversity of this group. Yes, I often received conflicting information, but by this time I was at a stage where I could sift through the critiques and decide if something needed
changing or not.

I moved a couple years ago and during that time the critique  groups I belonged to have also ceased to exist so I’m now looking for a group.  This isn’t easy. I don’t want to join what I call a “feel good”  group. There’s nothing wrong with writers who get together to read their work  and be told it’s “interesting” or any number of “nice”  words. I think putting words on paper helps people understand themselves and  the world around them, but I’m looking for feedback that will help me sell what  I’m writing. If someone likes what I’ve written, great, but if something isn’t  clear or could be developed so it had more punch, that’s so much better. I also don’t want to join a group where some members are jealous of the success of others and focus their comments to tear a writer’s work to pieces. I want a group where we all want each other to succeed and that’s the focus of our  comments.

It’s not easy to find the perfect group, but I’m looking. If  you’re in such a group, be happy. If not, keep looking.

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6 Responses to Critique Groups: Pro/Con

  1. Nancy Gideon says:

    Oh, I hear you, Maris. I took me a loooong time to get involved in a critique group. Up until then, I had one or two people whom I’d trust with my work, and I simply wrote too fast to get any benefit out of meeting once or twice a month. My group has been together for around a decade with members increasing from 5 to 8 in all different areas of romance and at different levels as far as career. But the one thing we shared was a passion for writing and a need to encourage each other. We try to meet monthly but its rare when we can all get together. Thank goodness for e-mail and these trusty beta readers.

  2. I belong to a critique group for about six years and have found the experience to be a good and useful one. But these days with all of us being pulled in different directions, it’s not as jumping as it used to be. We still can count on each other if we have something that must be read right away. And I have seen the instance where we lost a few really wonderful writers because of some careless remarks. Although I’ve never had a beta reader, I think I would like to find one.
    Good luck on your search,

  3. Tamara says:

    Why look for some group to join when you can start your own? If you either handpick your own group or start putting the word out locally that you want to work with other writers you can determine the focus of the group and the guidelines.

    I was a member of one group WAY too big to be effective with writers who were more interested in socializing than writing. It was a “feel good” group so I rarely received any helpful critique. When I dropped out of this group, I started my own and handpicked people to be in it. Some were members of the previous group-still are-and some were from other contacts I’d made. This second group is filling my needs at the moment.

    Good luck!

    • Maris says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Tamara. I am in the process of hand-picking, but it’s not easy to find writers who not only have the same goals but also have the time. But I’m sure I’ll find a few.

  4. Jackie Braun says:

    I’ve never belonged to a critique group or had a critique partner, in part because of the reasons you previously stated. However, I’m changing my tune, too. I’m considering a project that isn’t in my current genre, so I’m seeking some constructive feedback. Now, to find the time to meet…

  5. Diane Burton says:

    A hot topic around the ether this week. You hit on all the negatives and you’re absolutely right about them. A multi-pubbed author in an RWA chapter I used to belong to refused to be involved in the critique sessions because she didn’t want to destroy anyone’s hope/dream of being published. We’re fragile creatures, abounding in self-doubt. Oh, sure, we’re supposed to develop thick skins. Easier said than done. A good crit partner or group bolsters each member, gives honest opinions, & helps make the work stronger. They make the writer dig deeper and aren’t satisfied with superficiality. A good partner/group is a treasure. And, like all treasures, very rare. Good luck with your search.