writers resources / writing

7 Reasons For and Three Against Critique Groups

I tend to be a solitary person. I have no problem spending the day with myself–me and my computer (and a good book), exploring the world from the safety of my home-based office. I live through my characters, test my boundaries through them. I prevail over great adversaries and unbeatable bad guys. I out-think both friend and foe as I write, rewrite, and refine my story until it comes out exactly as I’d like it to. Nowhere in my real world can I be as popular, smart, strong, and energetic as I can be in my fictional life.

There is one compelling reason, though, I venture into the physical world: Monday evenings, twice a month, for my critique group. I joined this wonderful group of fellow writers so I could bond with kindred souls, be around others who could talk non-stop and forever (literally) about authors, books, POVs and story arcs. I found not only that, but more as I wandered down the yellow brick road in search of authorial fame and fortune. What I found instead were some glorious victories and a few hard truths (mostly about myself).

Here are seven reasons I’ll never give up my writer’s group:writers group

  • They catch my factual errors. In fact, they announce them, challenge me, and dispute my research if they’re sure I’m wrong. I better know what I’m talking about before I’m on the hot seat.
  • They let me know if a scene sounds authentic. That’s a gem. It’s easy to think the image is perfect the 2,159th time I stare bleary-eyed at the same page. They read with fresh eyes.
  • They tell me when a scene sounds right and delivers what I’d hoped. I love that.
  • They force me to show my work to others. They saw my first and second novel before my husband did.
  • I get as much out of listening to the review of other author’s WIP as I do my own. My fellow writers take their job seriously and do their best to accurately and intelligently decode the mistakes found in the selection being reviewed. I learn a lot from their words that I can apply to my story.
  • They are fascinating people. I could listen to their life experiences all day and when one of them misses a few meetings, I worry about them. I see these people more than most of my family. Well, that’s a good thing.
  • Agents want your work to be critiqued before you arrive in their mailbox.  They want to know they’re not the first besides your mother and dog who have read your story. A critique group qualifies.

That’s pretty convincing, isn’t it? These next three are all on me. They are personal quirks even as I intellectually understand the pluses of having my work critiqued:facial expression boulder man

  • I am too shy. It’s difficult to put myself out there, bare my soul, share secrets I don’t tell anyone. Yet, here I am trying to explain to this circle of patient, caring writers the motivation for one of my scenes. I don’t like talking about myself and that will never change.
  • It hurts. I don’t take criticism well. I get upset. Sure, I should have a thick skin, but I don’t. I never have and–here’s the surprise–I don’t believe that should preclude me from being a writer. The fact that I die inside when people don’t like something I’ve slaved over for months doesn’t mean I’ll never make it.
  • They contradict each other sometimes. That’s not a bad thing. It means that in the end, it’s my decision to follow well-intentioned advice or toss it to the curb.

That’s it. The pros of my writing group vastly outweigh the cons so I’m sticking with them.

Are you struggling with a decision about joining a writer’s group–really committing the time and effort it requires to make it work? Here’s Holly Lisle’s take on that subject and Writing-World’s overview on the subject.

More on writing:

Writers Tip #52: Join a Writers Groups

Writers Tip #72: Don’t Worry About What Others Think

10 Tips from Toxic Feedback

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 


54 thoughts on “7 Reasons For and Three Against Critique Groups

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  5. Reblogged this on Just Can't Help Writing and commented:
    I agree with all of Jacqui’s pros. The cons–we all face. Some thoughts: a) You do have to step out of your comfort zone. But an agent or editor is going to drag you out. Might as well get used to it with kind souls; b) You have to be clear to your group what you want. Follow up with specific questions if you don’t get the info you need; c) If you give negative criticism a couple of days to age, your brain will start processing it, figuring out what to do with it. And often what you come up with is good; d) When only one reader has an issue, say, “Thanks, I’ll look at that.” Then file it, let is age. Who knows. Maybe that was the best reader in the group, or maybe not.

    A great, true-to-life assessment in Jacqui’s post!


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  7. Jacqui, your insights on our critique group are spot-on, both the positive and negative. I try to make light of it by wearing the tongue-in-cheek red shirt, but the criticism does sting, especially when you’ve sweated over a story for an extended time. But here is the bottom line from my experience: I’ve submitted three stories now and in all three cases I’ve wound up with a stronger story as a result of the critique session. I hope that you will continue with us, because your comments are so insightful and constructive. We need you!


    • Thanks, Chuck, and your conclusion is exactly the right one: No pain, no gain hunh? Sorry I’ve missed the last two weeks. My son was visiting. Now he’s back in El Paso. I’ll be back for the July meeting.


  8. I joined a writing group but no one was interested in critiquing my novel, they just wanted to have a writing prompt each month and read poetry. Not what I as looking for. So I guess when you join a group it is a good idea to see what they are into first.


  9. I need to find an online critique group. I belong to Writing.Com and they do have a forum where you can get feedback on your work, but most of the writers there won’t go into any detail about why or why not about a piece. I’ve looked around cyberspace, but most of them want certain genres. I have no idea which one my work falls into. It isn’t clean-cut. Those have a fee. Well, I don’t have the money for that. 😦


  10. There is one real danger with critique groups and that is that authors, like everyone else, don’t know what they don’t know. So you can have a group that gives honest opinions and does everything else right, and they might love a book and give it the ‘all clear’, so the author puts out their book, thinking it’s great, then is horrified when an editor sees it (for e.g. one of the Awesome Indies reviewers) and that editor/reviewer points out that the book needs a line edit. The people in the author in this example’s critique group just don’t have the skills to evaluate writing on that level, but they don’t realise it, so they happily continue supporting each other to put out books that actually aren’t as good as they think they are. I’m pretty sure that editors don’t go to critique groups, so I see this as the major problem.

    Also if people aren’t sure of something and they ask the group who also aren’t sure, they can come to a decision that they all think is right, because they all agree, but they could be wrong – for example on whether or not an em dash has a space either side. That’s just one example of an area of punctuation that is often incorrectly applied. So basically, the critique group is only as good as the level of understanding of the people in it. If all you’re looking for is feedback on whether or not people like the story and think it works, that’s fine, but my warning is to not use them in place of an actual editor.


  11. I’ve been in a wonderful critique group for several years–all pros with that one. Before that, I was in two bad ones full of inconsistent and rude members, one that was online and the other in-person.


  12. My first critique group lasted about 1-1/2 but then fell apart. I joined another one but it fell on it’s face in less than a year. I’m looking for another one again. Sigh.
    I agree, picking up pacing, timing, errors, etc. is the best part of belonging to a group. It’s hard to have your work analyzed letter by letter (it sometimes feels) but the end result is worth the cringing and sweating if you belong to a compatible group. 🙂


  13. Jacqui, Love your sharing your personal experience and insight on your writers group. Very helpful.
    I newly joined 2 different groups and it’s been an eye-opening and valuable experience.

    The “critique” group has a few weeks to look over the copy. In the “writing” group each author reads their copy out-loud and members “hear” it for the first time in the group. The difference is amazing to me.

    In the “critique” group people are focused on what you so clearly described in your post and tend to dissect/bisect the work – looking more at the micro. The “writing” group responds more to the tone, whether it’s interesting, entertaining etc. – looking at the macro of a “good read”.

    Both view points are valuable. I find that with the critique group I focus more on what’s wrong and with the writing group more on what’s right. In general, I have found that both groups tend toward what is “popular”, “marketable” rather than something that is more “experimental”. In neither group do I hear people encouraging each other to stretch themselves or push their own limits.


    • Well that’s fascinating, Judy. I have belonged to both types over time and hadn’t considered the differences, but I do agree with you. the writing group was much more supportive (rather than critical–without the connotative negatives of ‘critical’), but not as deep. Thanks for this.


  14. The problem I have is that being mostly a solitary person, I haven’t been able to find local critique group. I do go to open mic poetry readings and the like, but the couple of writer’s circles I’ve heard of both meet during the day. Sadly, I still have to go to that day job…


  15. I would never, and I mean NEVER, have been published without a critique group. I learned tons as a new writer and rewrote my first book countless times. I agree with all your points, though it doesn’t bother me that there are differing opinions. There will be different opinions among readers, so I take the feedback and do what feels right to me.

    One thing I’d add as a “negative” about critique groups is they really can’t provide much feedback on pacing because they read the book in small chunks over a long period of time. It’s still important to seek out other writers for end to end beta reads to get a picture of the overall read and its pacing.


    • Good point. Pacing is a true negative. I see it all the time in my group. I agree about the benefit as a new writer–and when I write a new book. I’ve rewritten my current one far too many times.


  16. I have an unfair bias against writing groups. A friend of mine, an exquisite writer who will likely never publish, swears by her writing group. They wax on forever about process–without moving things along to product. She thinks I’m an overwhelming failure, because I published without first having the full writing group treatment. I think she’s a tragedy, because it’s clear that her truly deserving work will never see the light of day. It’s never “ready” enough. I suspect that she gets her emotional satisfaction from the approval of the group and that it stops, there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And that’s a valid benefit for her of the writing group–to enjoy her hobby. Where she goes off the rails is imposing her attitude on you. Lots of people don’t have the benefit (or interest) in a writing group and do fine publishing. I love my meetings as much for being able to talk to people about writing technique as get help on my own. In fact, I haven’t submitted for close to six months. And don’t plan to.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, true. It is a valid benefit that it’s enough for her. Still, her writing is achingly beautiful–and will remain so, enshrined within the confines of a tiny group. Too bad.


  17. I’m very lucky to be part of a critique group connected with our local college. We meet every two weeks and discuss up to four pieces that we’ve all had a few days to critique. Factual errors, anachronisms, unintentional POV shifts, unnecessary scenes, missing scenes—all of them (and so much more!) get picked up by my wise and honest cohorts. It also forces me to read WAY outside my usual genre preferences. I’ve learned however, that a good story is a good story. It’s been like a masters program for me. And as you said, it’s still up to me to make the decision about what stays, what gets revised, what gets tossed. With their help I may actually end up with a novel I’m proud of and that someone else will want to read.


  18. Sounds like a brave idea; being able to handle potentially what will seem like a direct questioning of your capability. And one that speaks of dedication to the craft and honesty. I doubt if I could do it. I will get defensive.


    • That’s where a lot of critiquers get confused: They shouldn’t question the writer’s ability, merely their delivery. I stop listening when someone makes me feel like I’m incompetent. So, whatever helpful advice they might have had merely washes over me.


  19. It must be akin to a psychotherapy session for writers. We’re all mad. Speaking for myself that’s the reason I do this. To escape from the real world.


  20. I can completely relate to your reasons for struggling within a group. I would actually love to be part of a small, local critique group. The only one in my area meet bi-monthly and the group is so large I often allow myself to be intimidated. I still get a lot from it, but I’ll admit I don’t go as often as I should. The advantages you listed are extremely valuable, so I can see why you get so much out of it 🙂


    • My group keeps wanting to grow–actually set up a MeetUp page. I like it small. That way, I know how to take the criticism. Meaning: Some people always dislike certain approaches–like violence (which my thrillers are full of).

      Liked by 1 person

  21. It’s been a long time since I got critique face-to-face, but I agree with all of this. For someone who presumes to review the books of others and wants to actually get into editing, I am a complete sook when it comes to being criticised and have a tendency to fold and cry at the slightest critique. Boo, me! I have no idea how one goes about getting a thicker skin, though.


    • I have a lesson plan for my students where they write an ebook (over a year) and work with each other in virtual critique groups via Google Hangouts. It works nicely. I think that face-to-face is required. Virtual groups that are simply typed don’t work so well.


  22. Hi Jacqui,

    I have never been in a face-to-face crit group, though I’ve tried several online. (Of the online groups I’ve heard Backspace is the best, for the simple reason you need to pay an annual fee with a credit card, and your user name is your real one.)

    The pluses and minuses of an online crit group are pretty much as you describe above, with the added problem of Internet groups attracting anonymous individuals who can be particularly nasty… They like to call themselves ‘trolls’, though imo a genuine troll needs to be witty and subversive, for a good reason.

    On your first point, I definitely think picking up factual errors is one of the very best points of a critique group. I remember a mechanic telling me that brake pads don’t need an oil, they need replacing! I had always just assumed the squeak could be fixed with a bit of grease.

    The other funny thing about factual errors is, sometimes the writer is right, but still continues to get corrected over and over. I remember another writer kept getting pulled up on her use of the martial art ‘jitsu’. “Do you mean jujitsu?” a number of us asked. “No! Jitsu is a thing! My daughter does it!” she replied, and I know she was right, technically.

    I suppose the takeaway there was, if anything, just because you’re right doesn’t necessarily mean that readers aren’t going to be distracted by it. Jitsu was one of those details thrown in for verisimilitude rather than being an integral part of the plot, and I don’t know if she ever took it out or not, but I feel she would have been better just sticking to the more popular jujitsu, allowing the reader to focus whole-heartedly on the story at hand.


    • I agree, Stace. If something looks like an error to too many readers, they’ll think it is. Us authors have to weave the factual infrastructure in so it informs the conclusion. I’ve never heard of Jitsu and would probably–like the other members of the critique group–think it was misspelled. Thanks for your thoughtful answer.


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