A good writing group can be a great asset to creating your best work, but a bad group can be worse than trying to work alone. How can you tell if you’ve found the right critique group? Here are some things to look for to make sure you’ve found a good group:
Members challenge each other
One of the main points of a writing group is to share your work and discuss how audiences might react to it. In a good group, members will be honest about their opinions of the work and challenge each other.
While a group that’s always positive might make you feel good about your writing abilities, it doesn’t help you improve your writing skills or your work. Look for a group where members are not afraid to critique honestly, but remember that you don’t have to make every change suggested. It’s your job to be open to criticism and new perspectives. Consider alternative ideas that your group members suggest.
Beware groups that offer each other nothing but positive feedback. No one is gaining anything except an ego boost.
They support each other
While it’s important that your group members challenge your writing, a good group also offers its support. You don’t want to be in a group that’s always negative and makes you feel bad about your writing, since this can lead to more writing fears. Instead, try to find a writing group that offers a good balance between critique and support. A good group will offer encouragement when you finish that difficult scene, even if it isn’t perfect yet.
Beware groups with members who do nothing but tear work apart. Sure, every piece of writing has plenty to work on, but every piece has something going well, too. Too much negativity could be a sign of jealousy.
They understand grammar and story
Good critique groups can help you work through both your grammar hang-ups and your story qualms. You don’t want to waste time on a group that only picks apart your comma usage, since that doesn’t help you with your story, but you don’t want to spend too much time with a group that never points out your sentence fragments, either.
Beware groups that only want to focus on grammar or story. You need both to be successful.
They understand your genre or topic
You need a writing group that understands the basics of the type of writing you want to do. While broadly focused groups can be helpful, you need other writers who get your genre and your topic. It’s really frustrating to talk to people who just say they “didn’t get it” week after week. You also don’t want to waste time trying to give feedback on a type of writing you don’t get. A reader’s response to writing has a lot to do with taste. Find people who love the your genre as much as you do, and you’ll get better feedback. You’ll also have more fun reading the work of writers who like the same work you do.
Beware groups that focus too broadly. Poets won’t need the same feedback as fiction writers and vice versa.
You enjoy spending time with them
Make sure you can get along with the people in your group before you waste time trying to build relationships that aren’t going anywhere. Sharing your work with others requires a certain level of trust, and this is even more important when those people will be critiquing your work. If you don’t like the people in your group, you’re never going to respect their work or their opinions on your work. You’ll have to spend a lot of time together, too, and you don’t want it to be painful.
Beware groups made up of members with whom you don’t connect. You won’t enjoy the group, and you’ll probably waste your time.
They Get to Work
When you connect with your group, you’re bound to want to discuss more than just writing, but this can really get in the way of progress. It’s fine to have a group that wants to talk, but a great group understands when it’s time to get serious. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and not improving your writing at all.
Beware groups that can’t focus. They won’t help you focus on your writing.
Members are on a similar level
While it’s great to have members that are more experienced writers, it can also be hugely detrimental to have a group with extremely varied levels of writing knowledge and skill. Beginning writers have different needs than intermediate writers, and professionals need a completely different experience. Find a group that fits your skill level to help build better relationships and make sure you’re focused on the right things. Putting professionals with beginners can cause animosity, and it can also be a waste of time for one skill group or the other. It can also cause animosity and jealousy between writers.
Beware groups with large gaps in experience and skill, since this can lead to arguments and wasted time.
Do you have any other feedback on finding a great critique group? Share it in the comments.