Thursday, May 19, 2011

Five Things to Look For In a Critique Group

I think critique groups are great! But I think they are also like a pair of jeans. You have to try a few on before you find the right fit. And maybe after a few years, you might have to find a new pair because you've outgrown the ones you own. So how do you find the right fit? What do you look for in a critique group?

1) People who are actually writing.

If no one (or only one or two) is turning in pages to critique, then it becomes a social group. You may talk about writing, but that doesn't make you a writer. Actual writing makes you a writer. Your group members don't have to be published, just writing. I guarantee that if you and your critique group keep writing consistently, you all will be published. How do I know this? I've seen it happen too many times over my forty years of writing.

2) People who have goals.

If your group's goal is NOT publishing, first and foremost, then you're in the wrong group. I would also question a group who is only interested in self-publishing. Too many things that are poorly written and poorly edited have been self-published. Sometimes there's a need for self-publishing, but that shouldn't be the group's goal. You can have the goal of turning in a certain number of pages for each meeting. Your goal could be to finish your manuscript by a certain date and your critique group should help motivate you to meet that self-imposed deadline. Your goal could be to write a certain number of short stories or articles or books. Your goal could be to win writing awards. Whatever your goal is, it should be shared by your critique group.

3) People who will motivate you to write, sympathize you when you fail, and celebrate when you succeed.

If your critique group does not do these things, then it's not right for you. These people will be with you throughout the whole writing process. They should be cheering you on. They should not be envious of any successes you have, nor should they be smug when you get rejected.

4) People who will be honest with you about your work, without being harsh.

Sometimes you'll find that a critique group loves everything you write. While that feels wonderful, you'll also wonder why your work isn't selling. You need people in your group who will tell you when your manuscript stinks like a wet dog, but then also offer suggestions on how to fix that odor problem. You also need people telling you the truth when your work sparkles like polished silver and that it's time to submit it. If a critique group is too harsh on a regular basis, run away! They will not help you grow as a writer any more than the group who loves everything you do.

5) People who want to work hard at writing and who want to learn and grow as writers.

If your critique group isn't taking steps to grow as writers, then you need to rethink this group. If they do things because it's the way it's always been done, they may not be best for you. The world of publishing is changing and you have to be willing to change with it.

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