Finding the right writing critique group to click with is a lot like dating. Partners are seemingly everywhere with all the potential for match perfection.
Much like finding the right person to share your heart and personal space with, you have to find the right writing critique group you can trust to open your heart to. And they need to have good enough hearts themselves to be gentle with yours. They’re people who need not only to be decent writers who can guide you and teach you, the right critique group needs to be people you want to spend time with and who you genuinely enjoy their company.
The beauty of today’s modern world is that options for finding the perfect writing critique group abound, no matter what your schedule is like or where you live. Large or small, in person or online, the possibilities are abundant. But also kind of elusive because you’re looking for a group that gives you the right feels.
What to look for.
Lots of factors can make people click or not with a writing critique group or partner. We’re going to talk about the two I consider to be the most important.
1. Reason and level
It helps if the group you seek out has the same, or similar, goals- like writing for publication or socialization -so they know what to expect from each other. One of the key reasons for seeking out a writing group (other than improvement) is to act as an impetus for your writing. If you’re just a casual, write-when-the-mood-takes-you writer then you (and your group) might get frustrated, even discouraged if everyone else is on the path to publication.
Similar goals aren’t the only important factor to consider. Ask: What level of writing experience do the members of this group have? If you have years of experience writing and you’re surrounded by newbies constantly, you might be a little frustrated. Unless, of course, you’re looking to be everyone else’s mentor. Look for a good mix of writers at all different stages: a few newer writers, maybe they’ve never been published, those who have been with it for a few years and might have some publications under their belt, and writers who are old pros or technical experts (like former literature or English teachers or professional editors).
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What is your writing experience?
- Do you have material to share right now? Or are you looking for a group that will help motivate you through the finish, or help motivate you to get started?
- Do you have a consistent writing practice or schedule?
- Where do you want to go as a writer? Why are you interested in the group?
- What else do you do to meet your writing goals? Do you read blogs (well, clearly you’re here but others) or books on craft? Do you take classes or attend workshops?
Assessing where you are today is important. But knowing what you want and where you want to go, also how you will get there, is more important to finding a good match in the long run. Find more about questions to ask yourself when searching for a writer’s group in a great article at Jane Friedman’s blog by guest author Brooke McIntyre.
2. It’s all about the pace, about the pace, no trouble.
Pacing is tricky. I mean, it seems to easy: how often do group members meet up or submit material for review? What’s tricky about it is balancing another time demand as a writer. Not only a time demand but energy too. The pace of the group should move quick enough that you make progress in your writing and goals. Then again too fast a pace can overwhelm you, too slow can be boring or like others aren’t on your same level. Either one can lead to you, or others, quitting.
When evaluating yourself, don’t get cocky about how much you can realistically produce. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of new people and new input. But it’s not only worrying about how much you can produce, you have to consider how much time it will take you to read others’ work and to give appropriate feedback. To be safe, remember to cut your own estimate of self in half and double your estimate of feedback needs.
Here are a few good questions to consider about production:
- Consider accurately how much writing you produced this month. Then think about how much you produced the month before that.
- Settle on spending a minimum of 30 minutes reading on commenting on others’ submissions – possibly more for longer pieces. Don’t forget that you need to consider all of the group members.
- In-person groups are a little different, pace depends on how often members meet. While you might not have a say in how often the group meets, you do have a say in your schedule and how often you engage with the group.
There should be a balance when working with a writing group. Some people produce more regularly than others, and some people go through brief spurts of creativity. Let’s not forget that life, in it’s infinite screw-with-us, intervenes too. The balance comes in making sure members feel like they are both critiquing and writing equally.
So, where are all these groups?
Chances are there are several different writing associations in your area. Many host meet-and-greets, educational workshops, or you can volunteer. Let your chapter know you are looking for a writing group and they will probably know of a few and be able to give you some contacts.
Most associations have online boards where you can look for groups that have listed with the associations.
There is nothing quite like a writing conference or retreat. The energy of the community, no many word nerds in one place, is invigorating. Talk with people, mingle, and chances are you will run across others who are in or wanting to form a writing group.
You can find a thorough list of writing conferences from Shaw Guides. Facebook groups are also good places to find groups. If all else eludes you, Google it.
Meetup is a good option, depending on your genre and area, for finding groups. These groups typically meet in person and are organized by one or more individuals in your area. As a matter of fact I found my local group through Meetup. Just remember to read through the group’s history and expectations. Some groups are social, some are quiet and organized production in a social setting, some have a level of writing production that you might not be able to meet.
Then there are online critique sites. Don’t worry, most are private so that you aren’t willy nilly sharing your work. Online groups most often run on a credits or points system, where credits are used to submit work and earned for giving critiques. A lot of times the credit-based systems also work hand in hand with a queue system where you will have to wait for your work to be critiqued.
Whether you choose to go with an in-person writing critique group or an online group, there are many benefits to a writer from everything from socialization to tips to basic networking. As long as you know what you want to get out of one, a writing critique group can drastically improve your writing. But don’t forget that with every benefit, there can also be a downside. Check out my upcoming article The Dangers of Writing Groups coming soon for what you need to be wary of.
That’s the down and dirty about how to find a writing or critique group or partner. Tell me, do you use a writing group? Is it online or in person? How did you find the group that fits you?
BC Brown is the author of three novels and has participated in multiple short story anthologies. Having committed almost every ‘bad deed’ in the book of How To Be An Author, she now strives to educate others through humor and simple instruction, as well as her celebrity to advocate for others.
Books: A Touch of Darkness ◘ A Touch of Madness ◘ Sister Light (out of print)
Anthologies: Fracas: A Collection of Short Friction ◘ Quixotic: Not Everyday Love Stories ◘ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court