What Makes a Good Critique Group?

It’s Monday night and that means two things – pizza and my critique group. (The pizza is for my kids, not the group. It saves the hassle of cooking dinner on a night when I have better things to do!)

Tonight, I thought I’d share my thoughts on what makes a good group. I’d love to hear from others too.

I’ve belonged to two critique groups in my career. The first was a rather large RWA group in the Chicago area that I joined about 25 years ago. I joined the second group a couple years ago when I got back into writing.

The groups are very different, as are the reasons they both worked.

Chicago characteristics – For the life of me, I can’t remember what the group was called!

·         The group was large. I would guess we had more than fifty members and we usually had 20 – 30 at every meeting.

·         We met once a month and covered 2-3 chapters each time.

·         We read our chapters aloud, although you could have someone else read for you.

·         It was about 50/50 published to non-published authors. At the time, I was among the latter.

·         It was all women, which is not surprising given that the primary focus was romance, but we also had some mystery writers.

·         The romance novelists were largely contemporary and historical. This was the 80s and I don’t think other genres such as paranormal were as big back then.

What made it work
I don’t think this group would have worked had we not had a solid set of rules of conduct and President who was comfortable enforcing them. For example, you could ask for someone to clarify a comment, but under no circumstances could you defend your writing. e.g. “That’s not what I meant!” The President also called out older more established writers who were a little too harsh on the newbies like me.

For a big group like this, the structure was absolutely necessary.

What I got out of it
I moved away from Chicago long before I published my first novel, but in my marketing career, I’ve done a substantial amount of writing. This group taught me the value of simply listening when someone is reviewing my work—especially when that someone is a paying client.

WordWeavers – my current critique group

·         8 members – all women. We had a guy for a short time, but I think he got cold feet.

·         We meet twice a month. We started out at a coffee shop, but decided it was tough to critique a love scene in such a public place. Now we meet in the local library community room.

·         6 of the 8 are published in some form or another, although not all romance.

·         Everyone in the group writes at least some romance, although there is a strong poetry and scifi element as well. Believe it or not, I am the only historical romance writer in the group. Everyone else is some form of paranormal.

·         We cover 2-4 chapters each time we meet, plus we occasionally do a writing exercise.

·         We read the chapters ahead of time instead of during the meeting.

·         There are far fewer rules and much more dialogue.

What makes it work
Over the last couple of years, this group has gotten very comfortable with each other. In fact, it’s such a good dynamic between the current members that we closed the group off to new members.

While we have a great deal more dialogue during the critiques, there’s still a lot of respect between the members. The thing I really like about the smaller group is having an opportunity to ask questions. e.g. Are my heroine’s motivations are clear? What emotions were you trying to go for in that scene?

What I get out of it
Tons! Probably the biggest advantage of this small group is the opportunity to bring current challenges to the meeting. e.g. My editor isn’t feeling the romance in the first few chapters, but I’m not sure why. Since we only have 8 members and we cover 3-4 chapter per meeting, we’re all pretty familiar with each other’s stories.

I’d love to hear from others. Do you belong to a critique group? What’s worked for you? What hasn’t?


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