Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thursday Review—Do I Really Need a Writers Group or a Critique Partner?

Only if you want your writing to improve! Writing for publication is an endeavor built on forging relationships. And those relationships can ultimately determine your success or failure in the writing industry. Here’s a list of those relationships.
  • Between you and other writers
  • Between you and the reader
  • Between the reader and the subject or characters
  • Between you and the editor
  • Between you and your agent
I listed the relationship between writers first, because surprisingly, it’s often the most vital in your writing life. The actual act of putting words on paper is a solitary act and because of that it’s easy to lose perspective. Writing in a vacuum can give us a false sense of whether or not we’re effective in our endeavor. We either wind up thinking we’re a genius or sink into the depths of despair because we can’t string two coherent sentences together. Rarely is either perspective accurate.

We need others in our profession to give us feedback, keep us grounded and provide encouragement. You may be tempted, like I was at first, to insert friends and family into this role. Unless they’re also writers this dynamic just doesn’t work. They’ll unwittingly encourage you when you need a swift kick in the pants and administer the kick in the pants when you need encouragement.

That’s where a writers group, critique group or critique partner will help. But you have to be careful—some critique and writers groups can be toxic. I’ve visited some where the purpose appears to be to build up the one delivering the critique by tearing down the hapless author. You want to avoid these groups at all cost.

Here’s a list of what to look for in a group or a partner
  • An encouraging atmosphere –not all sweetness and light—nobody improves on false compliments. But I’ve almost never found a manuscript that didn’t have some redeeming quality.
  • A mutually beneficial relationship. You should both bring something valuable if it’s a partnership—you may excel at writing dialogue and your partner is a whiz at description.
  • A hunger to improve. If it’s a group there should be a movement toward growth in the majority of members. Even if you’re all beginners, if you’re all reading writing books and attending classes you’ll be able to grow and learn together.
  • A timekeeper. If someone’s not willing to keep track of the time not everyone will get a chance to be critiqued. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it!
So now here’s your chance—what experiences have you had with writing groups and partnerships?
Don’t forget to join the conversation!


  1. I was blessed to have my writing group find me. And blessed that you, Vonda and others are willing to say hard things in a nice way. As much as I hate criticism (when directed at me), it would be a waste of time to go to a group where no one had anything constructive to suggest.
    I learn something each time we meet that I can apply to my writing, even if it came up as we talked about someone's article or devotion or poetry. Plus, hanging out with other writers is energizing! It gives me the boost I need get back to work.

  2. Great post. The answer is, yes, you need a critique group.

    I just left a critique group I've been in for four or five years. It was a hard choice, but two friends and I formed our own group: smaller, weekly rather than biweekly. The new group pushes me to produce!

    I was briefly in two other groups. One was so soft that we were only allowed to make nice comments. The other was not nurturing to me as a new writer, and I was dismissed.

    Maybe I should rephrase my first comment. You need the right critique group.

  3. I've written about crit groups over at my blog The Writing Road--and I've experienced the really, really good and the ugliest of the ugly times in crit groups. We had to disband a group when it was hijacked by one member who refused to follow the guidelines and repeatedly verbally attacked another member.
    But the good stuff outweighs the risks--the trust I've built with longstanding crit partners has helped me develop my voice and my cofidence as a writer. One writing friend and I say we are "joined at the hip & we've got each others' backs!"

  4. Thanks for all your comments! Take a minute and visit Beth's blog, you will be blessed by her wisdom and heart!

  5. I'm so thankful for my critique partners who are woman enough to say the hard things. I can honestly say after years of writing and crit groups, I would NEVER send out a critically important project without getting honest feedback. Crit partners who simply tell us how great our stuff is aren't helping us at all!