Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Critique Group Leader

by Henry McLaughlin @RiverBendSagas

Leadership is tough work. It may look easy to the outsider but to the person in charge, challenges compete with, and sometimes threaten, success.

Leading a writers critique group is one of the hardest yet most rewarding places to be.

Hardest because at times it feels like you’re herding wet cats.

Hardest because the leader has to deal with a variety of egos: the shy, the easily offended, the super confident, the strong ego, the dominator, the stubborn, the eager to learn, and the “God gave me every word of this manuscript” person.

Hardest because, at times, the leader will sacrifice themselves for the sake of the group. She’ll not share something for critique to give others more time. There may be times when he’ll have to take a tougher stance than he wants to guide a discussion.

One of the most difficult things a leader will ever face is asking a member to leave the group because they are disruptive, too dominating, too unwilling to learn, too argumentative. The group has to be more important than any one member but it’s still very tough to actually have to take the necessary actions.

Leading a group is also the most rewarding thing a writer can do. It’s rewarding when we see the light bulb go off and someone gets new insight into the craft or her story. Rewarding when the shy one opens up and gives a gentle yet effective critique. Rewarding when we see a writer improve from meeting to meeting. Rewarding when a member is accepted for publication.

The leader is expected to model behavior for the group such as how to use the sandwich method when giving a critique, respecting the time limits of the meeting, and setting the tone of the meeting. Her skills will be drawn upon when helping to get everyone involved in the discussions and keeping one person from dominating.

The leader must be a person the others respect. And this doesn’t mean the leader is the best writer or the best teacher.

He is above all an encourager. Not only encouraging people within the meeting, but also encouraging the members to submit to agents and editors, to enter contests; to risk by putting their work out there to be judged by others; to risk rejection.

The leader encourages by helping the group celebrate each success and each rejection. She helps the group focus on the notion that rejection does not mean failure. Rejection is an opportunity to learn.

Thomas Edison is reported to have made over a thousand attempts at inventing the light bulb and never saw an unsuccessful attempt as a failure. He described each attempt as learning one more way how not to make a light bulb. He learned and applied and eventually succeeded.

To see a writer blossom and know you had a part in it makes the whole effort worth it.

What do you look for in a leader?


Leading a #writing critique group is one of the hardest yet most rewarding places to be - @RiverBendSagas (Click to Tweet)

Henry’s debut novel, Journey to Riverbend, won the 2009 Operation First Novel contest. 

He serves as Associate Director of North Texas Christian Writers. 

Henry edits novels, leads critique groups, and teaches at conferences and workshops. He enjoys mentoring and coaching individual writers. 

Connect with Henry on his blogTwitter and Facebook.


  1. Service is the essence of leadership. I look for a leader who listens and puts the group ahead of his/hers interests.

    By the way, great blog post.

  2. Thank you for sharing, I will share this with all the table leaders at Word Weavers Woodstock.