I’m sure we’ve all participated in or heard stories about horrible experiences with critique groups. I’ve had a few myself. Unfortunately, I may have contributed to some of them. To any writers I did this to, I apologize.
I’ve been writing seriously—answering God’s call—for over ten years. During this time, I’ve participated in many critique groups, both on line and in person. I’m honored and humbled to serve as a writing coach or mentor over twelve groups through Word Weavers and North Texas Christian Writers.
Besides this, I belong to a small weekly in-person group who keep me anchored and encouraged. Society of Solitary Scribes, you know who you are. And thank you.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that successful groups have character traits that distinguish them from the unsuccessful. In no particular order they are:
Members are gently honest in sharing their feedback and comments with each other. No holding back to spare someone’s feelings, yet learning to give feedback sensitively so the person can receive it without self-condemnation. And no personal attacks or attempts to dominate or make everyone write the same. Like workout partners, we help each other develop the thick skin necessary to make it in the writing world.
The group is a place where writers give and receive encouragement and support on the writing journey. The group provides a safe and confidential environment, a place where we share triumphs and rejections, struggles and breakthroughs.
We build relationships of trust and caring. We move from group members to writing partners to friends.
We learn the craft through practice and open and honest criticism. We share new insights and knowledge
We call for each other to grow as writers. We won’t let talented writers settle for less. We won’t let struggling writers give up.
We show up on time, fully prepared to participate. We adhere to the established rules of the group and submit to the leadership. We learn the value of being writers with discipline, of meeting deadlines, of putting our butts in our chairs to write.
Safety and Trust
Many authors are writing personal stories. Stories of pain, grief, abuse, addiction. Deeply personal stories.
At one group recently, an author shared how painful it was to hear someone else read her story. Not because the writing was bad but because the story was so real and alive in her still. She didn’t know if she could continue to write, never mind share it.
I encouraged her that the group was a safe place, a place we can share hurts and pains in life as well as in our writing. I believe, for this person, writing the story is part of her healing. Sharing it in the safety of a writers group will help that healing process. Even if her story is never published, it needs to be written.
What traits have you found that make for a good critique group?
I don’t know what I’d add to this, Henry. But I totally agree with the value of a critique group. This is one way to take your writing to the next level. I love my group!
I’ve been in both good & bad critique groups. When good, they sure do help.
Thank you, Janet. And I remember helping those who came out of bad experiences to learn to trust again.
Great post, Henry! This a perfect checklist for those looking to find a solid group of writers who are interested in honing their skills and making lasting connections. A good critique group is priceless!
Thank you, Diane. I appreciate the encouragement.