Thursday, January 23, 2020

Traits of a Successful Critique Group

by Henry McLaughlin @RiverBendSagas

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 also 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. 

As I’ve traveled this writing journey I’ve noticed that successful groups have certain 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. As Proverbs says, we are iron sharpening iron.

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 being 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 who have discipline, who meet deadlines, and who put our butts in our chairs to write.

Safety and Trust
Many authors write 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.

We 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?


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

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. Thanks, Henry, for providing us the heart of a great critique group.

    1. Your welcome, DiAnn. A lot of it I learned from you.

  2. Excellent post, Henry - AS ALWAYS! One thing I stress in our guild is that we support each other's success in a "promotional" way by notifying everyone of events of interest, attending their book launches and presentations when possible, and by looking for opportunities to market their books and/or services along with our own. If I enjoyed John Quill's mystery, I'll mention that book. If Martha Inkwell is a good speaker, I'll mention that to my client.
    Jay Wright; Anderson, SC

    1. Good point, Jay. Part of being a critique partner is to support are fellow members however we can.

  3. I participate in several writing groups. I appreciate your words. My groups are great encouragers. What a great blessing to share with other writers! :-)

  4. Henry, I belong to an online writer's group and have reaped benefits in so many ways. I wish there would be one closer to the place I live so I could also attend one in person.

    1. Roberta - our guild started 53 years ago with only 2 people who met when one returned a book left behind by the other. That became a dinner invitation between 2 couples, which soon grew to 4 when the 2 women invited 2 other acquaintances to join them in homes and restaurants once a month to discuss & read poetry. Today, it is online daily and one formal meeting each month - still going with a whole cast of new members.

      It only takes 2 people to be a group. Start one and it will grow.

      Jay Wright; Anderson, SC

  5. Henry, I credit my writer's critique group (and my critique partner) with moving my writing light years ahead. I agree totally with all your points. Well said. (Did you run this post by your critique group? I bet they loved it ;)

  6. Thank you, Lori. I appreciate your kind and encouraging words. I learned these traits from my critique groups.