Thursday, May 26, 2016

Traits of a Successful Writing Critique Group

by Henry McLaughlin @RiverBendSagas

Traits of a Writing Critique Group
I’m sure we’ve all participated in or heard stories about horrible experiences with critique groups. I’ve had a few myself. Unfortunately, I may have contributed to some of them. To any writers I did this to, I apologize.

I’ve been writing seriously for over ten years. During this time, I’ve participated in many critique groups, both on line and in person. I’m honored and humbled to serve as a writing coach or mentor over numerous groups over the years.

Besides this, I belong to a small weekly in-person group who keep me anchored and encouraged. Society of Solitary Scribes, you know who you are. And thank you.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that successful groups have character traits that distinguish them from the unsuccessful. In no particular order they are:
Members are gently honest in sharing their feedback and comments with each other. No holding back to spare someone’s feelings, yet learning to give feedback sensitively so the person can receive it without self-condemnation. And no personal attacks or attempts to dominate or make everyone write the same. Like workout partners, we help each other develop the thick skin necessary to make it in the writing world.

The group is a place where writers give and receive encouragement and support on the writing journey. The group provides a safe and confidential environment, a place where we share triumphs and rejections, struggles and breakthroughs.

We build relationships of trust and caring. We move from group members to writing partners to friends.

We learn the craft through practice and open and honest criticism. We share new insights and knowledge.

We call for each other to grow as writers. We won’t let talented writers settle for less. We won’t let struggling writers give up.

We show up on time, fully prepared to participate. We adhere to the established rules of the group and submit to the leadership. We learn the value of being writers with discipline, of meeting deadlines, of putting our butts in our chairs to write.

Safety and Trust
Many authors are writing personal stories. Stories of pain, grief, abuse, addiction. Deeply.

At one group recently, an author shared how painful it was to hear someone else read her story. Not because the writing was bad but because the story was so real and alive in her still. She didn’t know if she could continue to write, never mind share it.

I encouraged her that the group was a safe place, a place we can share hurts and pains in life as well as in our writing. I believe, for this person, writing the story is part of her healing. Sharing it in the safety of a writers group will help that healing process. Even if her story is never published, it needs to be written.

What traits have you found that make for a good critique group?

Traits of a Successful #Writing Critique Group - @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. Henry, Thank you for sharing. I belong to an online group and desire to have one here at my home. Please pray for me to find the right people. I will print this for a guide. May God bless you as you continue to serve Him.

    1. Thank you, Cherrilynn.
      I'm definitely praying God will bring the right people to your group to challenge and encourage each other to grow as writers in his service.

  2. Henry, I've been with the same critique partners for over 12 years. We started out as raw newbies together. We grew in the craft and one by one got contracted and published. We learned to critique in each others' voice. We're tough on each other, putting on our editor hats. But we're honest and refuse to allow each other to put out anything but our best. We're still growing, but I wouldn't trade my CPs for any others in the world. :)

    1. What a timely post, Henry. I've just recently been thinking "what does a productive, helpful critique look like or consist of?" What does "putting on an editor's hat entail?" I want to know how to be good at giving constructive criticism to encouragement and helpful! suggestions As to what works specifically Ane?

    2. Ane, that is awesome. I work with several groups but the one that is most dear is one that has been together for six years. We have grown in our writing and in our friendships. We are the closest of friends and able to hold each other accountable for our writing and our spiritual growth.

    3. Hi Ellen,
      Thanks for sharing. I'll jump in with some suggestions. What works best in my experience is for each member to develop a thick skin and to learn not to take the critique personally (this can be very hard for some). Those giving critiques need to be able to offer suggestions in as non-threatening a way as possible. No one is an expert. We are all still learning the craft. Some are farther along than others, but this doesn't give them the authority to dominate the group or to try to force everyone to write like them.