Authors Answer 39 – Critique and Writing Groups

We’ve talked about beta readers before. But how about other forms of help? There are groups that writers can join to get help in many ways. Critique groups are good for help in whatever way the writer requests, whether it’s grammar, style, whether it’s likeable, and so on. Writing groups vary, as well. Some are online, some are in person.

320px-Modern-ftn-pen-cursiveQuestion 39: Do you use critique groups or writer’s groups? Are they helpful?

Allen Tiffany

Yes, and absolutely. Writing is as lonely a task as there is. And the product we create comes out of that isolation, so it is imperative that we get feedback. As I highlighted in an earlier post here reference beta readers, I greatly value the nuanced feedback a critique group can provide. Unlike betas who tend to give you feedback on an entire story, a writers group is much more focused at a more tactical level – word choice, sentence structure, echoes, etc.

Of course, I don’t respond to all the feedback I get…far from it. But I am very attentive to any consensus that develops. I generally get about 10 readers through the workshop of which I’m a member. If more than 3 or 4 are tripping over the same thing and calling it out in their feedback it is indisputable that there is something I must address.

In short, a very powerful way to help you improve your work, and there are a number of such groups online that are free. I’m a big fan of CritiqueCircle.COM, but there are others.

Caren Rich

I have used a few critique groups online.  It can be helpful, if you’re able to find another writer who will be helpful and honest.  Sometimes you don’t know anything about who is critiquing your writing. They may not even write in your genre and that can cause issues as well.

D. T. Nova

Maybe I should, but I haven’t so far.

Eric Wood

I use the kids I teach as my critique group. No one is as honest as a kid. They are usually helpful when prompted with questions. They are also fountains of ideas for new stories.

Gregory S. Close

No.  I’ve tried a couple of on-line critique groups, like Writer’s Café, but left mostly disappointed.  I did find my editor on that site, but since then I think we both left in frustration.  Not many people provided actionable feedback.

A lot of people seem to confuse “critique group” with “mutual ego-stroking group,” or the inverse “mutual condescension group,” neither of which are helpful for honing craft.  I’m not opposed to the idea, but I’ve yet to find a group that was just honest, practical and professional.

H. Anthe Davis

The only writer’s groups I’ve ever been in were my Creative Writing classes.  I figure those count.  They were nice people, and they wrote some interesting stories, but it wasn’t for me, really.  I feel that when you’re trying to turn out a book that will inevitably have a large word count, you need more specialized attention, which is why I have my betas.  Also, I don’t know that I could have done a group’s worth of reading others’ work while still keeping up with my own; I remember that reading and critiquing our smallish class’s batch of short stories was a lot of work, and most of them were only about 15 pages.  Also, in my area, there don’t seem to be a lot of SF/F writers’ groups, and I’m not inclined toward online ones because I know I’ll just get distracted by cat videos.  My Creative Writing group did teach me how to give and take criticism though, which is an essential skill for any writer — so I guess I would recommend that everyone try some kind of writer’s group at least once, just to figure that bit out.

Jean Davis

A good critique group is gold. Finding people you can trust to tell you how it is and having skin thick enough to take what have to say and do something about it is invaluable. I prefer online groups to in person as I think it’s easier to be honest and impartial when not having to deliver the critique face to face. It’s also easier to read the feedback, fume about it, and then take a deep breath and absorb what they had to say over a few hours or days, than smiling and politely thanking someone for shredding your scene moments after the fact.

Linda G. Hill

I did have a writer’s group in which we critiqued each other’s work. There were only three of us. It kind of fizzled out. I should probably join another, and I likely will when I’m finished my edit. Right now, realistically, I’m too busy to read anyone else’s work.

Paul B. Spence

I don’t anymore. I used to. I feel that, to some degree, they are useful when starting out. They are good for meeting other writers and also for getting motivation. The groups I started in were good at telling me how great I was, but not much useful feedback otherwise.

On the other hand, I met some great authors through critique groups, such as Greg S. Close, who still beta reads my work. I’d be happy to read his if he’d write more. ( hint, hint)

So, I guess my answer is yes and no. I think if you find the right group, like the Scribblies, they can be great. Without the right group, you’re probably better off with just a couple of honest friends.

S. R. Carrillo

I used to have a pretty reliable writer’s group I went to every week. They were super helpful in broadening my worldview and offering outsider perspectives because all the help I had at that point were very familiar with the story and just as used to the world as I was. I wish I could go back to them. I haven’t really found anything close or as helpful since then.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

I don’t currently use any groups, but I have in the past and I definitely suggest them. They can be a great way to get your work read, get help and suggestions on works-in-progress, and meet beta-readers and other helpful people who can assist in making your book better. The only reason that I don’t currently use any groups is that the good ones usually require a time sacrifice. You can’t be the person who just throws down their work and expects everyone else to spend their time and energy reading and critiquing. You have to spend some of your own time to take part in the group, to contribute to other peoples’ works. At this point in my life I just don’t have the time for that kind of commitment if I actually want to, you know…write…so it’s just not in the works right now.

Jay Dee Archer

I’ve mentioned several times before that I use Critique Circle. I find it very useful to get different opinions about my writing. While I’m not concerned about my grammar, I do miss some things, and in particular, they have alerted me to my tendency to use certain words or to use passive too much. That has helped me refine my writing quite a bit. It’s also helped me a lot with flow, dialogue, and narration. You don’t always get great help from everyone, but you’re bound to get some. To get critiques, you must give critiques, as well. I enjoy it.

How about you?

If you write, do you use any critique or writing groups? Let us know if you do and if they help.

18 thoughts on “Authors Answer 39 – Critique and Writing Groups”

  1. I use Critique Circle and Scribophile 🙂 I’ve found that they have both been very helpful! Although I just write short stories now. It might be more difficult to get insightful feedback on novels. True, it does take a lot of time because you have to critique others and can’t just throw your stuff out there and expect feedback, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot through critiquing and reading the critiques of others. It also inspires me to read the writing of others.

    1. For a novel, I think it’s okay to use critiques for each chapter, but you may not get the same people doing the critiques, nor is there a guarantee that they’ll know the back story. That’s where beta readers are important, I think.

      1. This is very true. I always had trouble giving useful feedback on “big-picture stuff” when I didn’t know whether some issue had been addressed in a previous chapter.

        I also think it’s beneficial for a site’s members to be able to choose what genres they’re interested in. While I don’t believe that ONLY people who read a lot of fantasy fiction can have anything useful (“actionable feedback,” as Gregory S. Close says) to say about a fantasy story, if a critiquer has to ask the author, “What’s a mage?”… Well, maybe that critiquer doesn’t have the right background as a reader to be able to tell if the story will work for its target audience. And “lol i don’t read syfy but i luv this lol ur char is real human lol” is NOT a valid critique.

        (Disclosure: It wasn’t in an ONLINE critiquer group that I was asked “What’s a mage?” Nevertheless, that incident has stuck with me as a perfect example of why target audience matters.)

        1. What’s a mage? Wow, they’re definitely critiquing the wrong thing. I haven’t had that problem, thankfully. I may use some technical or scientific terms from time to time, but I am writing sci-fi. I might get a question like that sometime.

  2. For the past year, I have been attending a poetry critique group which meets every other week. As someone who is relatively new to submitting poems for publication, it has been invaluable to me and I credit being a part of this group with making my work stronger so that I am getting some acceptances now. It also is not time-consuming because we offer immediate feedback in person, not an option for longer forms. I am still learning to handle the feedback, especially when members give opposite advice.

    I have been invited to join a second group, which will be all women poets. I am looking forward to our initial meeting in a few weeks.

    1. I guess learning to handle criticism can be difficult. I had some criticism for my writing, but I’ve taken it and made some changes if I thought it was necessary.

  3. I tried online critique sites for a while. Some sites are home to warring poetry cliques, and woe unto any novelist who wanders in, hoping to receive relevant feedback on a chapter or two. (I don’t need to be told I’d get “street cred” if I quoted poets from the site in my novel.) Some sites are full of people who will give thorough, thoughtful feedback… but they don’t like SF/F. (I don’t need to be told that science fiction is, “by definition,” complete crap because “only kids read that.”) Some sites are mostly for fanfic writers, even if not specifically listed as such. (I don’t need to be told that MY science fiction is crap because Aiden Teige doesn’t look and act just like Jim Kirk or Mal Reynolds.)

    I would be willing to try a critique site again if I could avoid, at least for the most part, the aforementioned problems.

    1. I guess it’s difficult to find a critique site that fits what you need. I’ve had nothing but a good experience on Critique Circle. There are separate sci-fi and fantasy sections, and the people that critique generally enjoy your genre. There’s also a minimum amount that they have to write to be able to get points, so the critiques can range from mildly helpful to extremely detailed.

  4. I’ve been lucky enough to have found both a wonderful face2face and an online site that gives good feedback. I got different things from each, but the most important thing I found was long-term critique buddies who are worth their weight in gold.

    1. I need to find some long-term critique buddies. I haven’t been critiquing regularly enough to follow anyone on the online critique site I use. Nor have I submitted regularly enough to have followers.

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