Monday, May 2, 2011

Suggestions for writing groups and critique partners (Part One)

Happy Monday, everyone! Don't forget - this round's writing prompt is due tonight! For details, click here.

A writer emailed me and asked, "I've decided to start a writers group with some of my friends. I want this to be a group to talk about writing and give other kids my age feedback on the things they write. I'm working on my first novel and I know several other kids who want to be in the group are too. I was just wondering if you had any advice on getting started or anything."

Writing groups and friends can be wonderful things. Particularly when the right boundaries are put in place.

Define Expectations
If you're going to be critiquing each other's work, I definitely recommend a group discussion about what everyone wants. One writer, let's call her Jan, may not want everyone ripping apart her manuscript. If that's the way she feels, she should say so. She should say, "I am looking for feedback about my main character and/or suggestions for improving him." If the writer doesn't offer this, you need to ask about their expectations. "Jan," you can say, "what kind of feedback are you looking for? Do you want line edits, or would you prefer more general comments about your plot and characters?"

Don't be shocked when...
people say they want you to "really say what you think, don't hold back" ... and then they go all defensive on you and are clearly upset. Sometimes people think they're ready for a tough critique, only to discover they're not. Try to have patience with that. And try your hardest to not be that person. Or if you find yourself feeling that way, just be honest. "Sorry, I'm having a really tough time with this," you can say. I bet they'll understand.

There's gotta be trust
People in a writing group have to trust each other. Our writing is very personal. I have to know that someone critiquing my work has my best interest at heart. So if you're just starting your group, maybe hold a couple get-togethers before you start passing around chapters.

Equal stage time
Don't let one writer take up all the critique time ... and don't let anyone receive a critique who isn't willing to take the time to give critiques. Of course, word-to-word it might not be a perfect balance, but it should even out somehow to keep group members from becoming bitter. My writing partner is Roseanna White. Her latest release, Jewel of Persia, is like 160k. The longest book of mine I've ever asked her to critique was 75k. But Roseanna has to wait, like, a month or two for me to get back to her while she turns critiques around in mere days. It works out.

Allow people to have lives
Mentioning Roseanna's Jewel of Persia brought this to mind. When she was asking for critiques for Jewel of Persia, I was approaching the release date of So Over It (July 1st) and the "release" date of my son (due and born on July 15th.) Roseanna sent her chapters to me like she usually does ... but she had no expectations of me actually getting them read. Be nice to your writing friends and allow them to have lives outside of critiquing your work.

I have more thoughts about this to share tomorrow, so if you have questions about this topic, post them below and I'll answer as best as I can. Also, I'd love to hear whether or not you're in a writing group and, if so, what kind of advice you have to offer.


  1. My other big advice would be: BE PATIENT. It takes a while for a group to hit its groove. I can honestly say it took a couple months and a couple crits for me to feel really comfortable with any one of my critters. But now they're like my writing family, and I can't imagine not working with them.

  2. I'm not actively involved in a critique group but these posts have me thinking about when i do become involved in one! It sounds like we need to be as judicious in who we show our writing to as we would with anything else in life- we just don't tell everyone everything. As we get to know people we learn who we can trust and build different relationships, same for writing & critiques

  3. Can't wait.This sounds fun.None of my friends really write though.I wish I could do it.Great tips for accepting/giving critique though :) Sierra

  4. I know what you mean Sierra. I don't exactly have any friends who love writing like me. Writing conference's, right? One day. When I get brave enough. But all my favourite authors do conference's in America; not Australia! Is there a possibility you can all over to Australia?:P

  5. Where does one even find a writing or critique group?

  6. Starting that kind of thing can be so tough! But for those of you who put themselves out there; you are so brave!

  7. I agree with Em. on that... how does one do that? I've tried searching for writing groups online... but I failed mostly, I found like 1 and it was extremely outdated.
    And then another one was really weird and hard to understand how to post... and unlikely that anyone would even read your stuff.
    I started a writers group on but lol. They started making people pay to keep their networks, so I couldn't do it anymore because it was to expensive.
    Any suggestions Stephanie?? i'd love to be able to find a writing group where I can post things and get critiquing from fellow peer writers, I have like 2 friends that love to write. One of them is a year away from graduating and so she's really busy, and then the second one lives hundreds of miles away from me. =/

  8. I think I'm going to teach a writing class next year, and our classroom would be like a critique group sometimes. Maybe i'll invite my students to keep writing and critiquing each other afterwards too...

    Any specific tips for moderating the group?

    Also, could you touch on online/long distance critique vs local get-togethers?

  9. Wonderful post, Steph! I am currently in a critique group with three other aspiring writers. So far, its been a great experience and their advice is soo helpful in finding holes in my plot, tightening up my writing, and just being a BIG supporter.

    To the girls who asked about finding critiuqe partners, I hooked up with my group through My Book Therapy. Google it and check it out!

    - Katy

  10. I'll be there Emii!As soon as figure out how teleportation works...Sierra

  11. I'm working on writing prompt stuff right now, and will answer writing group questions in a post tomorrow. I'd like to second Katy's suggestion of My Book Therapy. Lots of great writers are hanging out there!

  12. There is also a critique group in American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) but you do need to pay in order to join ACFW

    This is a great post I saw today about first books being published, its very common sense advice

  13. Tonya, thank you for sharing that link! Rachelle is a smart lady and knows her stuff.