Friday, November 30, 2018

What's the Value in a Critique Group or Writing Partner?

by Edie Melson @EdieMelson

I field a lot of questions about the value of having a critique group and/or partner. There are as many answers as there are writers. But there are very few who are able to produce publishable writing in a vacuum.

For me personally, I wouldn’t be where I am today as a writer if wasn’t for the groups who have nurtured me along the way.

Although we tend to think of writing as a primarily solitary pursuit, writing for publication is an endeavor built on forging relationships. And those relationships can ultimately determine our 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 our writer’s 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? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!


Find a valuable critique partner and/or Writers group with these tips - @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)


  1. Agree with your guidance Ms. Edie. If the person delivering the critique is more interested in showing their expertise, find a new group. For me, learning to use the "sandwich method" has helped me both as a reviewer and a recipient. God's blessings ma'am.

  2. Good list, Edie - especially the "HUNGER" to improve. That could, maybe should, be declared by all now and then. And it certainly must be demonstrated.

    Your #1 is critical: find the redeeming quality and share it up front. "this is bold", "that is a powerful phrase and I like where you placed it", "this character is already growing on me", "what a vivid scene - I felt the tension."

    I have found that more ground can be covered if some of the critique can be framed as questions rather than statements. "What if you reversed these two paragraphs?", "I'm missing something here - why did she bring that up again?", "Have you considered breaking the long narrative in this scene with some dialogue?" A well-timed, well-framed question can sometimes be more easily heard and considered.

    Jay Wright - Anderson, SC

    1. Jay those are excellent suggestions, love framing them as questions! Blessings, E

  3. I was blessed to find the critique partners I have. We've been together for 14 years. What we had in common was a desire to become good enough to get published. We learned together, shared what we learned and encouraged each other.

    What we didn't do was give each other false compliments. But we cared enough about each other to push each other to do our very best. God deserves our best, not our leftovers.

    We do not meet in person. Now we are all published and working on deadlines. We also live in different states. Our chapters are emailed to each other and usually critiqued right away. That way, everyone gets the same amount of time.

    We're a small group of 4 writers. It's enough for anyone. But I wouldn't attempt to write without my CPs. They make me so much better. I can call one of them when a story is going off track or I get stuck for some reason.

    They have become my closest friends.

    1. Ane, I agree! I have some crit partners I've been with almost since the beginning. I wouldn't be where I am today without them! Blessings, E

  4. I agree with you, especially about a hunger to improve. I have learned so much when I'm rewriting a previously published piece (before I was in a critique group). It's so exciting to bring it up a notch!

  5. The first time I joined an online critique group was about eleven years ago. Back then, I was such a novice I didn't even know what POV meant. But God matched me up with some great women who took me under their wings and gently guided me. I can't put a price on their "virtual" love and teaching. It made me a better writer and now I'm paying it forward to others. The right critique group is a must for every writer.

    1. Linda, it's such a blessing to have writers like that in our lives! Blessings, E

  6. So thankful and blessed by my Word Weavers! Forging relationships, helping each other grow, learning, learning, learning.