One of the questions people often ask me is how to find or form a good critique group. My answer: it’s really hard. In some ways it’s like dating, and God knows I never want to go through that again!
Not so long ago I was part of an amazing critique group with some ridiculously talented women in Santa Barbara. Some of us were published, some weren’t. But every person in that group was a gifted writer, a supportive person, and all-around wonder woman.
I started the group years ago with Gwen Dandridge. Both of us had been in other critique groups that left us less than satisfied, so we came into the partnership knowing exactly what we didn’t want to happen with our group. We met during a six week writing class, liked each others writing, and decided to form a group even though we lived fifty miles apart. We each recruited other members, and before too long, the five of us were meeting monthly to eat, talk, share books and review manuscripts.
Every critique group works differently, but what worked for us was to email each other a chapter or two several days before meeting. We’d each make notes using MS Word’s track changes function, then when we’d meet, we would discuss our notes. Sometimes we’d all agree, sometimes we’d vehemently disagree, and on really good days, we’d brainstorm various paths and how those changes could benefit the overall story. The synergy we had together was incredible. Their critiques made me a stronger writer, a better beta reader, and gave me confidence in my abilities.
So what are the elements to look for in critique partners?
- Like the person and their writing. That may seem obvious, but I’ve seen the pain that can come from trying to critique writing that you don’t like from someone that you do like. If your goal is to be able to give a useful, honest critique, do everyone a favor and make sure that you like both the person and the writing before you agree to critique each other.
- Honesty. You don’t want a critique partner who is just going to tell you how great you are. That’s what mom’s are for. A good critique will highlight your strengths, but also point out your flaws: repetitive words, clichés, weak motivations, questionable story lines, lack of plot, lack of emotion, too much emotion, stilted dialogue. The list is endless. If someone reads your work and tells you it’s perfect, thank them politely and find someone else to critique with.
- The same, but different. One of my critique partners loved historicals and fantasy. Another liked romance. One person loved contemporary YA. Still another preferred realistic middle grade or women’s fiction. We intersected at middle grade, but because each of us read different genres, we brought different perceptions to the table. It might seem like a clash, but I think it made our critique skills that much better, more well rounded.
It’s entirely possible that I will never find another group of women like the ones I left behind, but I hope I do. Writing is so much more fun when you have a great group of people to do it with.
Curious about the writing of some of my critique partners? Here are a few of their books.
- The Stone Lions is on sale right now for 99¢
- The Dragons’ Chosen – because pretty much anything with dragons is cool!
- Saving Miner’s Gulch – Ghosts, gold and summer adventure
- Sheep – A California Young Reader Medal Winner
- Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind – A Bankstreet College Book of the Year
- The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez – Earned a starred review from Kirkus and releases March 1! Woo-hoo!