Finding a good critique group can be challenging, especially when you are new to writing and don’t know what to look for. It doesn’t help that there are a variety of group styles to choose from. No style is better than the others, what matters is whether it works for its members. Some groups meet once a week, others once a month. There are groups where dedicated writers gather together to work at their craft, others are strictly social gatherings for like minded individuals.
The difficulty in finding a good group is, like all other groups, they can be dysfunctional. Stories of writing groups gone bad are pervasive on the internet. Unfortunately, new writers are particularly susceptible to falling prey to dysfunctional groups. Holly Lisle’s Blog mentions some of these groups: Circle of Friends, Masters and Slaves, and Sharks and Dinner. It only takes one person to completely change the dynamic of a group, quickly spiraling from circle of friends to sharks and dinner.
Writers Digest produced an article listing the Top 10 Worst Types of Critique Partners; it’s worth a look. If the group you’re considering has any of theses people, be aware that things could take a turn for the worse if the group is not properly moderated.
Fortunately, most writing groups are comprised of well meaning novices, not spurned writers with an ax to grind. Unfortunately, groups of novices are often breeding grounds where bad writing myths are perpetuated. There are easily as many articles filling the internet on Bad Advice to Ignore from Your Critique Group as there are articles about run-ins with bad groups themselves.
In my own quest for better writing, I have encountered both bad advice and bad groups. To aid my future endeavors I combed the internet for articles on what to look for in a writing group and how successful groups are run. That information has been distilled down to a single sheet of paper, which I am sharing for the benefit of others, who like myself, are seeking a better writing group.
20 Questions for your Critique Group (PDF File)
Many of the questions have no right or wrong answer, such as “Do they actually accomplish anything at the meetings?” If you are looking for a social group, then spending a lot of time in dedicated writing or critique wouldn’t be a good fit. Likewise, “What level are the writers? Published? Unpublished? Mixed levels?” has no right answer either. If you’ve never been published you may feel intimidated sitting among people who have already got a couple published novels under their belts and might be more comfortable in a group of your peers or a mixed level group.
The question “Are people from your race/ethnicity/religion/sexual orientation accepted as group members?” is an important one that shouldn’t be overlooked. The first critique group I was invited to join only accepted Christians. I met the woman who invited me at the library. We exchanged names and contact information; later she sent me a friend request on Facebook, which I accepted. After reading my profile, she promptly unfriended me and sent me an email withdrawing the invitation to join the group. She assumed I was Christian and I assumed my religious preferences were irrelevant. Fortunately, the offer was withdrawn before I showed up at their meeting. Imagine the uncomfortable silence that would have descended over the group when MaryJane asks which church I attend and I reply that I don’t attend church. Asking ahead of time will ensure that you don’t put yourself in an awkward situation and end up getting uninvited after the fact.
I’m still looking for a better group and with any luck I’ll find one soon. At least now, I know what to look for.