Positive Writer

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How to Make Your Writing Critique Group Flourish

When you’re in a critique group that works for you, it’s the best. They encourage you, provide accountability, as well as teach you how to be a better writer…

Writing critique group

Insights from the right people are an invaluable gift to a writer.  (Click to Tweet)

When you’re in a critique group that doesn’t work, it’s the worst. You dread seeing these people and having your work torn to shreds. Some folks are so damaged by the process they quit writing altogether.

It’s a shame. It’s also…

Unnecessary. Your writing can flourish with the right format, even if you live in the remotest parts of the world.

My Critique Group Credentials

I’ve been writing twenty years now and have been participated in 3 different critique groups during that time, each with its own format and style. I’ve been with my current gang for over 14 years. They’ve celebrated with me when I finished my four novels, commiserated when I lost two different literary agents (not my fault) and believe in me when I can’t seem to do so for myself.

I read both fiction and nonfiction to them: scenes or chapters from my novels, blog posts, magazine articles, query letters, as well as each website page as I built my blog.

There’s no one right way to operate. Each format has its various perks.

Different Formats

Some groups have requirements on how many pages you must bring to ensure participation, while others set limits of the number of pages to guarantee time enough for all. Discuss expectations beforehand, so everyone understands and agrees on the guidelines.

Two other PW posts that would be helpful for your critique group to read and talk about are: How to Give Constructive Writing Criticism that Actually Helps and Surviving Criticism without Losing Confidence in Your Writing.

Here are four format suggestions:

1. The Strong, Silent Type – Distribute copies of your work-in-progress (WIP) to everyone, then they silently read your manuscript. They’ll mark your pages with comments, questions, suggestions, and hopefully, many smiley faces 🙂

Best Part: This is the closest situation to your future readers, one person reading your work alone.

2. Loud and Proud – Distribute copies of your WIP for everyone to critique, while you read your manuscript aloud to them.

Best Part: You hear your work differently when you read it aloud to others. You catch what’s on and off about your writing.

3. Reading by Proxy – Same as above, but another person reads your WIP aloud.

Best Part: You can truly tell how well your words flow (or not) when someone else reads them aloud for the first time.

4. Read Now, Talk Later – The group emails each other their WIPs to read on their own, then either meets in person, via email or online conferencing to discuss (more about that below). 

Best Part: This is perfect for those in a time crunch (i.e., meeting on their lunch break).

If you want to save trees, you can always forego distributing copies of your WIPs for formats 2 – 4, and have them listen to your manuscripts instead. The critiques probably won’t be as strong without them seeing your writing in front of them, but it’s still an option.

This Works No Matter Where You Live

In the wonder of the internet today, we have more opportunities than ever before to connect with each other. Though my blog, I hear from writers in remote parts of the world who feel like they’re the only writer in their entire country. Critique groups aren’t an option for them.

Not true.

You’ve got mail – you can either email each other’s WIPS, then send it back with your thoughts (like #3 above).

Skype or Google Hangout – Both of these free services let you set up an account to have either a free phone conference or video conference. You may do this with just one other person, or multiple people in your group. (Again, like #4)

Where do You Find Other Writers?

Locally – Find like-mind spirits at book stores, libraries, coffee shops, workshops and book signings.

Online –Read the comments section at writing blogs like Positive Write to find kindred spirits. Also, check out online writing classes or groups.

Insights from the right people are an invaluable gift to a writer. Keep trying different formats until you find one that clicks with you and your group.

Which format appeals to you most? Please share in the comments if you know of another critique-group style.

This post is by Positive Writer contributor, Marcy McKay. Let her know how much you enjoyed it in the comments.

About Marcy McKay

Marcy McKay wanted to write stories ever since she read about Oompa Loompas in fourth grades. She's the Amazon best-selling author of Pennies from Burger Heaven. Join her on Facebook. Marcy is also a contributing author to The Audacity to be a Writer.

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Like a good friend, Bryan guides you through the process of facing your inner demons, conquering the craft, and creating work that matters. ―Jeff Goins



  • I am part of a writing group that meets weekly, and as you said, they both keep me accountable and give me invaluable feedback. It’s amazing that what seems perfectly clear to me can be confusing to a dozen other people.

    For writers who can’t find a local group, scribophile.com may be a great resource. It’s a free community of writers. You earn points by giving feedback and spend points to post your work. In my experience, the participants all have good intentions and it’s a fun community.

    • Hey Fritze,

      I love critique groups for the same reasons. I’ve never heard of scribophile.com, so I’m grateful you share that info. I’ll be sure to pass it on. Thanks!

  • Phil Turner

    Sometimes I like the thought of a critique group, but mostly I bottle out – seeing it as too threatening. I know this is silly. A real world group would never work for me I suspect because I will not use creative time in my mornings. Evenings I am in bed at 9pm, so that only leaves a few hours in the afternoons and my afternoons (Ireland) do not correspond with the times many other people can attend a meeting
    I will also check out Scribophile, thanks @apeculiarproject:disqus

    • That doesn’t sound silly at all, Phil. The wrong critique ARE threatening! I hope that will try Scribophile

  • We all need someone else, besides biased friends and relatives, to read our work and give us feedback. In the past I have enjoyed weekly critique groups , usually using option two. Where I now live I couldn’t find a good group close enough so went to the internet. For Christian fiction writers, ACFW has an online critique group for members. From that I met my current critique partner and work one on one. She is strong on grammar, structure and all the rules. My strength is character development, dialogue and the intangibles, so we make a good team. There is no reason to go it alone!

    • That’s great that you were so diligent in finding critiquers, Jane. It sounds like you and your current critique partner and a good balance for each other and you’re so right. There is NO reason to go at it alone.