Some of the worst critique groups on Earth can seem wonderful, at first.
They’re friendly. They’re supportive. They make you feel good about your writing. But there may be danger signs.
Do they rehash the same tired old stories at every meeting? Do members routinely show up empty-handed? Are they really helping you become a better writer?
Sadly, too many critique groups come to an untimely end because they’ve made a crucial mistake or two.
Before you join a critique group (or start your own), here’s what to look for:
1. Everyone is writing in the same genre (more or less).
At first glance, you might think that having writers in a diverse variety of genres would be helpful.
Unfortunately, it’s not.
If you bring a science fiction story to a group of romance writers (or vice versa), the advice you get will be superficial at best. At worst, it could be misinformed or disrespectful.
But if your group is focused on one genre, you’ll get higher quality feedback. Other members will be better educated in current trends, best-selling works, and established conventions in your genre.
At the very least, make sure that your critique group exclusively accepts fiction. If you meet a random group of poets, essayists, and nonfiction writers, look elsewhere.
2. They value your time.
Much can be said for reading your work out loud. It can help you spot errors that you might otherwise miss on the printed page.
That’s great. But it’s much better to do that on your own time.
Many critique groups require members to read pages aloud. That’s nerve-racking for some people, and too slow for others.
Instead, read pages on your own, and then meet to discuss. That’s a more efficient use of everyone’s time.
3. The same members meet consistently.
Over the years, I’ve attended (and created) several critique groups that were so large they had to break into smaller groups at each meeting.
That becomes a problem if you end up sitting with a random group of people who are unfamiliar with your story. You’ll spend an inordinate amount of time explaining previous chapters, and yet people will still be confused.
That’s not a recipe for insightful feedback.
The solution? Meet with the same consistent group of members every time.
4. They meet in a quiet, comfortable place.
According to my highly unscientific survey, at least 50% of all critique groups meet at Starbucks. That’s unfortunate, because it can mean too many distractions.
Thoughtful feedback requires the ability to think clearly and deeply. The best place to meet is somewhere quiet and relaxed, like a library meeting room or a bookstore. Not in the middle of a crowded coffee shop.
5. Everyone brings new pages.
Perfect is the enemy of done.
There’s no such thing as a perfect book, a perfect chapter, or even a perfect sentence. After a certain number of revisions, your story doesn’t become any better – it just becomes different.
Accordingly, don’t fall into the trap of bringing the same pages back to your critique group every meeting.
Because guess what will happen? The group will find something else wrong with your pages. That’s their job.
Successful groups focus on pushing forward with new material.
6. Everyone contributes.
In successful critique groups, members bring pages every time.
Sure, if you miss the occasional chapter, that’s life. People are busy. But if you’re regularly coming to meetings empty-handed, you have to ask yourself why.
Are you a writer? Writers write. So bring new pages!
What dooms a critique group?
Missing any one of these elements can put a critique group on shaky ground. Missing two or more could doom a group to an awkward breakup.
Make no mistake: going to a good critique group is one of the smartest things you can do.
Do it right, and you can get the feedback you need to finish your book, publish it, and move on to writing the next one.
That’s what a successful critique group is all about.
In kindergarten, Laurence MacNaughton decided that he wanted to be a scientist when he grew up. “What kind of scientist?” the teacher asked. “A mad scientist,” he declared, “the kind that makes monsters!” Unfortunately, mad science presented limited career opportunities, so instead he turned to writing. is the author of It Happened One Doomsday (scheduled for July 2016 release and now available for pre-order), The Spider Thief, and Conspiracy of Angels. Try his books free at www.LaurenceMacNaughton.com.