Forming a Critique Group 101

On finding a group of writers and keeping them together.

Image Courtesy Daria Shevtsova

It can be frustrating to find a critique group if you’re a new writer. Groups often don’t take new members or don’t advertise when they do. That’s why it’s usually easier to just start your own group. I recommend getting out in the community and meeting other writers, then finding those that truly get your voice and what you’re doing with your writing. Here are a few tips on forming a critique group, all of which can be adapted to suit your needs. None of these are hard and fast rules, of course. No two writing groups are the same!

  1. Get out there. The easiest way to meet other writers is to go to writing events and talk to people! Yes, I know it’s scary, and I know that many writers are introverts. But you’d be surprised how just putting yourself out there can help. Check out Meetup.com, your local Facebook groups, and bookstore events in your area. Poetry readings, open mics, and book signings are great places to meet writers. When you get to a writing event, go up to people and ask them what they write, what area of town they’re in, or what their favorite book is. Find people who write what you write or who seem interesting and engaged. Then, ask if they’re looking for a critique group.
  2. Be exclusive. Set a limit on the number of members in your group. 4–6 is a good number. Anything less will feel like you aren’t getting a varied enough response. Anything more will be too hard to manage in a short time period.
  3. Pick a location. It’s easiest if you meet somewhere quiet like a library, but it’s better if you meet somewhere that has food like a cozy café. Make sure it’s central to your members. Or, create an online group using Facebook or Slack. I always recommend that even if you’re doing an online group, it should have a “meeting” component like a monthly chat or skype call. This is because it’s very easy to get distracted and miss deadlines when you don’t have the expectation of a face-to-face.
  4. Aim for diversity. Think about your members in terms of what experience they bring to the table. Ideally, you want a balanced group in terms of gender, age, background, experiences, and other factors like genre. It’s okay to be in a group that all writes different genres, but you may encounter some resistance when the group is unfamiliar with a trope or style. A good mix helps balance the voices.
  5. Make up your own rules. Set submission deadlines and word count limits. For my group, our limit is 7,000 words and our deadline is two weeks before a meeting. Yours may need to be different to accommodate your member's schedules.
  6. Set guidelines for critique. The worst thing that can happen to a critique group is when there’s someone who is too harsh. This kind of energy can bring the whole group down. To help with this, it’s good to set guidelines about what a critique should entail. (For example, critique should list positive aspects of the work as well as areas that need improvement. Line edits are encouraged and should be provided in Word.) Set time limits if you have extra chatty members. Be professional.
  7. Challenge each other. Have a discussion in the first group meeting about everyone’s writing goals, then help each other stick to those goals. Each group might have different goals, some may be driven to publication while others might be more focused on fun and socialization.
  8. Be prepared to level up. There may come a time when you start to feel like you’re not growing in your group. It’s natural to level up in your writing and need a different group, one that is more challenging or has other writers that are at a higher level than you in their career. If you can, try to find a group that is full of members who are a little more experienced than you. If a group isn’t working out for you, that’s okay. Writers often cycle through groups as they mature.
  9. Develop crit methods for longer works. If you have novelists in your group, it’s important to consider how those will be approached. My group has a method where we read the entire novel and then comment on it in a separate group session. You’ll want to evaluate what works for your group.
  10. Don’t burn bridges. It can feel scary bringing your work to a new group. It may take a few meetings for you to feel “settled in.” Take care with your critique style and learn to hone your feedback. And if a group doesn’t work out, find a way to transition out without hurting the feelings of your other group members. These writers may become life-long friends. Treat them kindly!