Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Critique Groups: Choosing the Right Partner

Choosing the Right Critique Group

So far we’ve talked about the importance of knowing what we want from a critique group and clarity about what a group wants from us.  So how do you know what group is right or wrong for you?
How do I know if I'm in the right critique group for me?
  • If you're getting what you said you wanted from a group.
  • If you feel challenged and see growth in your craft.
  • If you're moving toward your goals.
Notice, "if it feels right" didn't make the list.  Why?  Feeling good and getting what I need are two very different things.  Sometimes I can be with a group that feels great -- but it's not a good critique group for me.  I'm getting lots of positive feedback and we all love each other, but I haven't felt stretched or challenged in some time.  Which leads me to the next question:
How do I know if I'm in the wrong critique group?
  • I don't feel stretched or challenged.
  • I'm not moving forward with my goals.
  • I'm not getting what I said I wanted out of a critique group.
  • The group is dysfunctional -- Note: if it feels like your family squabbling at Thanksgiving, it’s probably dysfunctional.
Once again, "if doesn't feel right" didn't make the list.  Why?  To learn and grow, we have to put ourselves in uncomfortable places.  If I really want to be better, I need to be challenged, to be stretched in new ways.  And that kind of challenge isn't always comfortable.  Of course, there's a point where the discomfort outweighs the benefit.  If I'm so discombobulated I can't think straight and my writing is actually suffering, then maybe I've gotten in over my head and need to take the critique process down a couple of levels.

How do you know if a critique group is right or wrong for you?  Post a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Next post I’ll look at face to face vs. online critique groups.


Big Mike said...

I'd add one thing. Your group must contain people that understand you want them to be truthful, it won't hurt your feelings, you want blood back on your script. Most have a problem with true candor.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Mike is right. You need an honest, specific critique, not a cheerleader.

Veronica Helen Hart said...

I agree with the need to be challenged. I belong to three completely different groups. One is a "read aloud" group, which often praises my work, much like a cheerleading group, but when I hear my own words and imagine what the audience is hearing, I can tell when changes are necessary.
The second group is one I lead. Most of the members are beginners and so we are gentle about suggestions, but no one ever recommends "send it out" unless everyone agrees it's a marvelous piece.
The third group is serious, two-authors-a-week only submissions where the manuscripts are dissected by a variety of people - some are comma oriented (annoying but helpful), some are mostly content oriented, they vary in their backgrounds, so almost everyone is a specialist in some area and helpful with details. The best part of this group is that even with major suggestions for change, they all work with positive words. There is never any blood.

Richard Hacker said...

Absolutely agree Mike. Truth with respect is absolutely essential. I do think each of us needs to be in charge of how much truth we're willing to hear. I've seen folks move from open to defensive to offensive as they struggled to take in difficult feedback. Am I looking for one thing I did well and one thing to improve or at the other end of the spectrum do I want your objective opinion? Especially if you tell me the concept for my book is a commercially non-viable worn out trope with characters who are sitting dead on the page. Some folks are not willing to hear the latter. I may not agree, but I want to hear and understand how the person got to that critique.