Fiction Workbench

Blog of the Fiction Fix-It Shop

Choosing Critique Groups

Posted by Meredith in Writing Advice (March 2, 2011 at 2:30 pm)

Today’s question is from Advanced Fiction Writing blog reader, Mike, who wants to know about choosing critique groups:

“With so many different blogs/forums/clubs out there, how can you find a good critique group?
Is there a way to weed out the ruff from the diamonds?”

That’s a really good question, Mike. A critique group can be invaluable to a fiction writer–helping us learn our craft better, teaching us how to handle criticism and receive feedback, and showing us how to look critically at not just other people’s work but also our own. I learned more about how to write by GIVING critiques than even by receiving them. I have always been a strong advocate for critique groups.

But on the other hand, a bad critique group can be discouraging at best, and disastrous to your writing craft at worst. Some critique groups do more harm than good because they are comprised of beginners who don’t know what they are talking about and just simply pass bad advice among themselves without realizing how destructive they are being. I have been part of those kind of groups too–and yes, I was one of the beginners helping to pass around bad info like a winter flu bug.

Some writers organizations have well-organized critique group systems that attempt to create a balance of experienced writers and newbies. This usually ends up being a labor of love on the part of the more experienced writers, since most newbies aren’t able to provide the experienced fiction writer with the level of feedback needed to challenge them.

As you are searching for a critique group, I think these are some things to keep in mind:

  • Is there a mix of experience levels within the group?
  • Is the group providing helpful feedback that is challenging without being disparaging?
  • What fiction writing resources and instruction does the group use as a foundation for their critiques?
  • Are the genres represented in the group similar enough to your own to allow for a good fit for your work?
  • Can you keep up with the critique load and pace? There’s nothing worse than dead-beat critique members. You don’t want to be one.
  • Is the group characterized by mutual respect and a commitment to confidentiality?
  • Is the tone of the group positive and forward looking, or does it become a bitch-fest on how unfair the world of publishing is?
  • And most importantly, do you feel the advice being offered is valid? If you aren’t sure, measure it against resources like our blog here at Fiction Fix-It Shop, or Advanced Fiction Writing.
  • You can also measure a critique group against a professional critique–perhaps at a writers conference or through a freelance editing service like ours here at FFS. Even a chapter critique or just a few pages can provide you a standard by which to evaluate the quality of a critique group. Obviously, a critique group may or may not have the same level of expertise, but it will give you a standard to go by. Then you can make your own decision from there.

You might even be better off putting together your own group, if you have several fiction writing friends. You can do this online or in person, depending on your situation. I’ve found that critique groups can go on to become important support networks long after the group has stopped doing regular critiques.

I wish you the best in your search, Mike. Leave a comment and let us know if you find a good one!

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