Writing Critique Groups: Are They Worth It?

When it comes to writing a novel, short story, poem, etc. it’s essential to get outside opinions. Or, more specifically, to get critical feedback of your work. Your work will not be the best it can be without at least a few other people reading and critiquing it.

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Why?

You are too close to your work. There comes a point during the writing process where you can’t see the holes within your story. You can’t tell what is unclear or missing or out of order. Just because everything makes sense in your head doesn’t mean it does so on paper.

For this reason alone, it’s a good idea to consider joining a critique group. (Not to mention that sometimes family members, significant others, and the like aren’t the best people to be handing your work in progress to. Many times they won’t give you valuable feedback, or you won’t be honestly open to listening to their critiques.)

Critique groups can also provide a sense of community, support, accountability, and seriousness, as well as take your work to the next level (and hopefully result in getting your work published).

However, finding the right critique group is essential. Without the correct people, a critique group could do more damage than good. Like aiding in the formation of bad writing habits. Or lacking/skewing perspective. Or over-explaining every little detail within your story.

How can this happen?

Often times, a critique group meets once or twice a month, and will set a limit to the number of pages read between meetings. In my previous critique group, we met once a month. There were five of us within the group, and though we were all fiction writers with a tendency to write fantasy/science fiction (and thus were familiar with what type of content went into such works), we only read ten pages from each person a month.

See some problems?

  • With having so much time between meetings, it was easy to overlook what we’d wanted to say about each other’s work.
  • With reading so few pages a month, it was even easier to forget the overall story line. So, while we were able to adequately comment on a page by page basis, the general story could have some major problems that went unnoticed. (And they did… I remember having to go back and re-read sections of my cohorts’ stories from months ago because I couldn’t recall what had happened and thus was confused with the current submission.)
  • Have you done the math yet? If a novel is 250 words per page (double spaced) and a book is 80,000 words, and we only read 10 pages a month…that’s over a year to read a work in progress one time through! Not very effective.

But, if you find the right critique group, you will be a lot better off than you were before.

My current critique group is made up of individuals from my MA in Writing program. We’ve all been through the program’s classes and writing workshops. We’re all familiar with each other’s works, personalities, feedback styles, etc. More importantly, we know how to workshop and have all built up a thicker skin, so that when we receive negative feedback, we’re better equipped to handle it. (This doesn’t mean that we don’t get mad at the individual(s) ripping apart our work, but we know to take a breath (or several), calm down, and then, more objectively, take another look at what was said. Often times, but not always, that individual(s) had a valid point.)

The group I’m presently in also moves at a faster pace and meets more often than my previous group, which is great because we get more accomplished, can remember what happened, are more structured, and look at both the big and small pictures. It doesn’t hurt that we’re all nit-picky with editing, so after looking at the bigger issues, we’ll go back and tear apart all the smaller ones.

As a side note, it’s good to also have a few beta readers. A beta reader is different from a critique group in that a beta reader usually reads the entire novel before providing feedback. Beta readers won’t comment on the smaller problems, but they’ll see the big holes within your work that your critique group might miss.

What do you think of critique groups? Is it worthwhile to be a part of one?

(Photo courtesy of Paolo Fefe’.)

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2 thoughts on “Writing Critique Groups: Are They Worth It?

  1. Aidan Reid

    I’ve never had an interest in joining one but can see the merits. Though as you point out, there is the danger of groupthink so while the feedback is welcome, it might be slanted. Anonymous reviews of your books online are always a good litmus test to see if you hit the mark! 🙂

    Reply

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