Critique Groups: Finding the Perfect Fit

I had a delighful conversation with an attendee over the weekend about critique groups (Hi, LM!) and I wanted to share some of the highlights with all of you.

Critique groups come in all shapes and sizes. Some are genre specific, some are judged, some are open to all writers and all genres. Some are honest and some are not. When you’re looking for a critique group, here are some things to consider:

1. How serious is the group when it comes to the writing? Are they more into cookouts and cocktails or do they really want to get the heart of the work? And how serious are you? Is writing more than a hobby, or just a part-time things for you?

2. What’s the demographic of the group? Are all of the writers rookies or are some of them published? Where do you honestly fit into the group? Are you the star of the show, or are you always the one who gets picked on?

3. How honest and forthright are the members? Will they tell you the truth, as they see it, about your work? And do they know what they’re talking about? Will they tell you you’re the next Faulkner so they don’t have to hurt your feelings? Can you give honest and constructive criticism?

Critique groups are like any other outlet: they grow, change and evolve over time. You have to expect this. People will drop-out, stop writing, get published, move. It just happens. Be aware of these changes and make sure your attendance is productive. If it isn’t, find a new group.

I was a critique group regular for years. But after a long, hard look at my expectations from the group, I realized my needs were no longer being met. I still communicate with several members, but the meetings had become less than productive for me. It broke my heart to leave, but I felt I was reading and rereading the same material. And only two other writers in the group seemed to be serious about publishing.

A few months after leaving the group, I met a lady at a conference. After a long discussion, we realized were in the same place in our writing lives and we wrote the same genre. We decided to try an experiment: long-distance critiques. We made some hard and fast ground rules. No personal relationship except to ask politely about the husband and kids. No self-editing. No beating around the bush. Regular schedule. Emails preferable to phone calls. Call only if you can’t explain it in an email. 100% Business. We are CRITIQUE PARTNERS not Best Friends Forever or Frenemies.

It’s been a dream come true for me. (I hope she feels the same!) She’s the one person who I can really trust to tell me the uncensored truth. She knows what she’s talking about when it comes to our genre. And we’re climbing the publishing ladder at the same time. I know this won’t work for everyone, but it works well for us.

So, if you can’t find a critique group that meets your needs, consider an out-of-the box solution. Don’t waste time and gas attending a critique group that gets you no closer to your goal. Find one that fits.

Thanks for the idea, LM. I was fresh out of blogging topics.

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