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What is a Writer's Critique Group?

Updated on October 17, 2012
Courtesy of Kozzi Inc. / kozzi.com
Courtesy of Kozzi Inc. / kozzi.com

Many writers who wish to improve their writing through the knowledge of experienced writers make use of writers' groups.

A writer's critique group is a gathering of writers in person or online, for the purpose of offering honest and critical feedback on each other's work. If constituted properly with the right mix of writers, it can be very helpful. A group could involve writers of various kinds and levels of experience. A properly constituted and run writers critique group can be the cheapest course on the craft of writing you ever attend--it's completely free! Like most ventures in life, it can also turn out to be a whole lot of wasted time.

Three Possible Benefits of a Writers Critique Group to a Writer

  1. A writers group can be a very, very good resource for learning how to be a writer. It offers a group where you can learn not just about the craft of writing, but a whole lot of information, including: Publishing knowledge, marketing, resources, networking and gaining lots of useful and valuable contacts.
  2. It's great research! Why struggle through an enormous work without any idea about how potential readers may receive it? A critique group will not only let you know if it's working or not, it will also give you feedback on where, what and why it's not working.
  3. It's great support! Writing can be a very depressing career, fraught with all sorts of doubts, fears and many temptations to procrastinate. A writers critique group can offer accountability and encouragement through regular exchanges an feedback.

Two Possible Concerns of a Writers Critique Group to a Writer

  1. A writer should really make sure to be ready to receive harsh criticisms about their writing before they present it to others for critique. If delivered at a point in a writer's life or career when they are not ready, harsh criticisms can completely devastate and halt a budding career. So, do it in small doses, trying to really understand and incorporate the feedback you get without killing your own writer's voice.
  2. There is also the fear of having one's ideas stolen or plagiarized by other writers. If one takes time to find a good group, these fears will be significantly diminished throughout the months or years of participation in different kinds of writers communities without encountering evidence of this theft: writers' critique groups, writers' communities, writing sites, writers' blogs, writers' rooms on the web etc. Also, this risk is counterbalanced by the wealth of learning that the writer gains through this process of interaction, feedback and critique by writers of different levels of experience.

Writers Critique Group: Face-to-Face Meetings

These involve setting up regular meetings of writers of a certain area in an agreed location. They are often done in libraries, bookstores, coffee houses, and sometimes even the homes of the members of the groups. They could be done weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. It really all depends on the arrangement of the members based on their availability and convenience.

You could set one up in your area by placing a local ad for it and giving information for a convenient time and place of the meeting-- preferably the weekend or Friday evening, which is most convenient for most people. It could be a general call for writers or a call for writers of a specific genre.

The organization of the face-to-face writers' group meetings could be done in any number of ways: You could have each member of the group have a turn in presenting their material by reading it out loud, and then allow time for feedback and critique from the group. You could also have writing assignments which all the members can critique. The level of trust that has been created for this is critical in determining how willing the members will be, to share their work with others.

Three Possible concerns of Face-to-Face Writers Critique Groups to a Writer

  1. Critical feedback is very difficult to deliver in person, especially when some kind of relationship has (or has not) been established. It is also very difficult to receive or hear in person, especially if delivered without skill or sensitivity. Writers, particularly young writers or new writers, having put a lot of heart into their writing, may not be ready to hear a face-to-face negative or critical reaction to it.
  2. There is also the concern of honest feedback. How would you really know if the feedback has to do more with your look, speech, reading and interaction with other writers than the writing itself?
  3. Another limitation to this is the pool of writers you may be able to attract. Limited as you are, to a particular locale, you may not be able to attract the kinds of writers you hope to. Perhaps something like an ''LA writers group'' or ''London'' or ''New York writers group'', could manage a good pool of writers. But not all places are metropolitan or homes to great publishing houses which attract lots of up-and-coming writers trying to make a career out of writing. In this aspect, the Internet wins hands down.

Writers Group: Online

(For a list of specific online groups and links thereto, see this review)

There are very many writers groups on the Internet. The beauty of the Internet is that locale is not a limitation. The entire world's pool of writers is potentially available to you at the click of a mouse. There is also no better venue for a meeting of genre or niche writers.

Online groups are pretty easy to join, as well as convenient: No need to leave the comfort of your own home to walk or drive some place else. You can participate any time and at your own convenience. Of course, you miss the opportunity of real, live, face-to-face interaction and socializing with other writers, which is a bummer if you're an extraverted personality type. These groups have their own concerns too.

Four Possible Concerns of Online Writers Critique Groups to a Writer

  1. The risk of plagiarism is higher, considering one has to submit his written work for review, often as long as a week. For new and insecure writers such as myself, this seems quite risky. However, there are many sites on the Internet for which there is great feedback among the users. There are not many accusations of such theft, so I think that the risk is not as great as our new-writers' minds would lead us to assume.
  2. Many of the reputable groups have certain requirements: One should open an account, submit a piece of work and offer a certain number of critiques of other writers' works before receiving feedback on your own writing. This could mean a it of waiting before getting feedback on your work.
  3. No instant feedback-- you generally have to submit your work and wait a number of days for feedback. This means that the nature of feedback is not as interactive as a face-to-face encounter.
  4. There is the possibility of affecting your ability to sell your work to a publisher in future. This is because online submissions could possibly render the work ''published''. Be sure, therefore, to join and submit work only to groups that have guarantees and measures in place to protect writers from this.

Many bloggers seem to have had quite a positive experience with these critique groups, claiming to have improved very quickly as a writer through participation in them. If you join one which has the membership of enough experienced writers in your niche, it will be like a free writing workshop, class, or seminar. Happy hunting!

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