What A Writer’s Critique Group Can Do for You
Throughout my writer’s journey, I needed someone to talk shop with about book marketing, traditional publishing, and indie publishing. To help improve my writing, I decided to seek out and attend a writer’s critique group.
The first writers’ critique group I attended was populated by writers so critical and competitive that I left with a corker migraine. Willing to give it a second shot, I returned the following month only to leave with a worse migraine and swear to never return. Yet, I still needed someone to brainstorm with me, listen to my work and give productive feedback.
Who’s On Your Team?
When my second Christian book with Bethany House Publishers, What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Say released, a writer interviewed me for an article in a writers magazine. Her final question was, “Are you in a critique group?”
I shook my head. “I’d like to but lack the competitive spirit.”
She shook her head. “Wish there was a group that gave honest feedback designed to move you forward.”
We sat in silence on my front porch, both pretending to study the landscape.
At last she spoke. “Would you want to get together once a month?”
We began our own writers’ critique group two decades ago. Whether a Christian author, secular author, self-published or traditional our goal was to help one another succeed and improve our writing. Her first novel earned the Christian book award and the Christy Award winner, and I’ve written thirty-one books and ghosted just as many.
Through the years, we invited plenty of kindred spirits to join our writers’ critique group. New folks bring fresh ideas and relationships. Members come and go depending on their writing journey, but a core of seven remain consistent. We’ve become closer than just a writers’ critique group as over the years we’ve experienced book contracts, new and old agents, brain surgery, divorce, marriage, relocations, new jobs, knee replacements, and grandbabies side by side.
A writers’ critique group can be a valuable asset and provide support throughout your writer’s journey. Writing is a team sport. Who do you want on your writing team?
Create A Critique Group
Writers’ critique groups come in all shapes and formats. Choose the style that fits you. How often will you meet? Weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly? For one hour or four? Where will you meet? Online? Recently I met the Three Musketeers, a trio of young women who met for more than a year as a writers’ critique group online. When they attended the same Christian writers conference, it was the first time they saw one another face to face. Surely one of them remarked, “I thought you were taller.”
Groups meet at libraries, churches, coffeeshops, and in one another’s homes. We’ve done all of these over the years and keep returning to homes with clean bathrooms and no background noises. Typically, we’ve rotated homes, though one writer hosted for several years because our scheduled arrival provided incentive for her to make improvements in her newly purchased antique project. When one member was recovering from surgery, it was easier if we came to her.
No Cleaning Required
Because we meet mostly in each other’s homes, there is no expectation for dusted and polished surfaces. After all, the host should have been busily writing the next bestseller.
What is the format for your writers’ critique group? Will you give a teaching on the craft of writing? Bring hard copies of work and ask members to jot their comments and return the paper? Read aloud from your work and receive suggestions? so you hear your own words delivered as a reader would see it?
Our writers’ critique group divides the three hours we meet each month by the number of people present. We each use our time as we see fit. Often the writers’ critique group bounces around different topics depending on the person. Different topics include feedback on our work in progress, brainstorming for plot and characters, polishing queries and proposals, considering agents and publishing opportunities, deciding between independent or traditional publishing or Christian or secular audiences, and the list goes on. We show off our best work and get help with our worst. We network, swap book marketing ideas, and attend conferences together. Often, someone in the room has a connection that fits our need from a household repairperson to a web designer.
The Care and Feeding of Authors
To eat or not to eat is never a question. Who doesn’t like apple cider in autumn, hot cocoa in winter, coffee and tea in spring, lemonade in summer, and peanut M&Ms all year round?
Our standing rule is anyone can bring snacks to share as long as making said snack does not cut into writing time. Remember, the goal is to write. On a shopping trip, members pick up fruit, vegetables, crackers and cheese, or nuts. Those who bake double the recipe for an easy carry in. A quick scan of the cupboard or refrigerator can yield a worthy last-minute grab and go, and members are always invited to attend without bringing anything, an invitation I exploit.
The most important aspect of a writers’ critique group is attitude. Build your team with writers who want you to improve your writing, who generously help others succeed and celebrate that success, and who have your best at heart.
A Safe Place For Authors
A scarcity mentality is what characterized the migraine-inducing writers’ critique group I first attended. There was an underlying feeling that if someone landed a contract, agent, publisher, or writing gig, there was less for everyone else. On the contrary, opportunities abound, there is plenty of room for everyone, and each writer has their own skills, ideas, and niche. The more generous we are in helping others, the more opportunities open for us.
And yes, there have been a couple times when I’ve spoken to someone about this negative mentality. I encourage people to help those who might be struggling to achieve their potential. Feedback is vital for growth and can be delivered in a fashion that lifts the author’s head, rather than push their head down. This method leaves no room for mean spirited criticism, belittling, or selfish competitiveness. I’m thankful for the many times my writers’ critique group has let me know when I’m off track with a project and when subtle tweaks will move the work from good to awesome. If you leave a critique group feeling worse than when you arrived, that is probably not a fit.
Red Smith is quoted as saying, “Writing is easy. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” Build your writers’ critique group into a team that provides a safe and nurturing place to tap those creative veins.
About the Author
PeggySue Wells is the Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of 31 titles including The Ten Best Decisions A Single Mom Can Make, Chasing Sunrise, and The Patent.
She is a writing coach and ghostwrites for others. Contact her at www.PeggySueWells.com