Justine: When It’s Time to Leave Your Critique Group

red flagI’ve been involved in an informal critique group for just about 3 years now – the Eight Ladies – and another regular group (meaning we meet weekly) for just over a year. A few months ago, I joined a third critique group, but I just notified the members that I must withdraw from it.

There are many reasons to join a critique group, and also many reasons to leave one, but there are a few things that should be red flags. If any of the things listed below are happening in your critique group, perhaps it’s time to set sail and find another.

1. Not Keeping on Schedule

Not surprisingly, this goes both ways. If you can’t meet the deadlines established by your critique group, or many members in the group are dropping them, then perhaps you should consider pulling out. You’re not being fair to the others in the group who have taken the time to read your MS when you haven’t reciprocated. On the flip side, many of us are trying to get our books finished and having to wait on critiques from group members is incredibly frustrating. You feel like you can’t move forward!

2. Mismatched Talents

We were all beginning writers at some point, but then we started getting better. The trick is finding a critique group where the talents are more or less the same – a few people better than you, a few people not – so that everyone is challenged. There’s nothing more unhelpful than a bunch of “this is great!” or “fantastic work” comments. A critique group should stimulate you. If you’re not getting helpful feedback, then it may be time to find another group.

3. Tearing Down

Speaking of comments, if the only comments you get from members are negative or derogatory, then it’s definitely time to pull stakes and move on. We writers are a rare bunch and putting someone else down (or being put down) isn’t what our ego needs. We don’t need to be told we’re great all the time (especially when we know there’s room for improvement), but we also don’t need to be told we’re a hack writer who will never get published, either. (There will be plenty of reviewers on Amazon to do that after we’re in print.)

4. Differing Viewpoints/Genres

As a romance writer, we can expect different “heat” levels, from sweet and mild (maybe some kissing, but definitely not sex) to hot and spicy (no holds barred in either language or sex). Within fiction writing, there are many different genres, each of which have their own special and unique characteristics. But that doesn’t mean one is better than the other.

If you’re in a group that refuses to critique what you write because it’s too hot, too mild, or “not real fiction,” then get out. If you’re a writer who holds his or her beliefs close to your heart and isn’t comfortable reading spicy sex scenes or obscene language, then find a critique group that matches your heat level.

There’s nothing that says romance writers can’t critique sci-fi or mystery (and vice versa), but be cognizant – and respectful – of what the other members are writing and support them as best you can. If you don’t feel you can do that, or you don’t feel you’re being respected for what you write, then you should find another group that suits you better.

5. Telling You How to Fix Problems

This problem is my biggest beef and one of my worst red flags. I have no problem with anyone telling me they didn’t like something (even better if they can tell me why), but what I can’t stand is when they tell me how to fix it. Better yet, they rewrite my entire scene. Hey…wait! This is MY story, not yours. I’m happy to learn that something bothers you, but let ME decide how – or even IF – I should fix it!

If you find yourself part of a group that is constantly telling you what you should do, rather than what they don’t like, it might be time to find new critique partners.

I have learned a tremendous amount about writing good stories from my critique partners. I’ve only had to withdraw from one group, and it’s because I couldn’t keep up with the commitment (overextending myself yet again). For now, I below to two great groups and I think that’s about where I’ll stay. I can manage the workload and the feedback I get is wonderful.

Do you belong to a critique group? Have you ever had to leave one? Why?

8 thoughts on “Justine: When It’s Time to Leave Your Critique Group

  1. After I took my first Writing the Novel class at our local community college in 2002, I invited several of my classmates to create a critique group and we’re still together. One thing that nearly destroyed us, though, was not being careful enough when we added new people. Even if you have a high-performing group, and we do, the addition of one mismatched personality can really mess that up.

    • That’s wonderful that you’ve remained together for so long. You make an excellent point about adding someone new. One of my writer friends had that problem and it dissolved the entire group.

  2. Just laughing at the thought of someone handing you back a rewritten scene, Justine (and probably expecting you say thanks)!

  3. I actually don’t mind when people tell me what to do. I write myself into corners all the time and then sit there, wondering how to get out. I think it was Raymond Carver who said when that happened to him, he wrote in a man with a gun, and Jenny Crusie told me she wrote in a dog. So the last time I wrote myself into a corner, I wrote in a dog. Because I already had a man with a gun.

    • Sometimes telling you what to do can be good (“throw a rock”). But actually rewriting your scene for you is a whole different ball of wax.

      I hope the dog helped your scene!

    • LOL, I think I’ve seen that dog, Kay! I used to have a list of sittin’-and-thinkin’ things for my characters to do when I was in search for a plot point and doing NaNo (because you can’t just sit and think when you NaNo, you have to meet word count goals). So, I’d have the characters open up a bottle of wine and talk things out until a good idea would come up. Tea is fine for other ideas (-:.

  4. We did critiques in college creative writing courses, but the teachers didn’t really set guidelines until after problems came up. I remember one guy once wrote this awful SF scenario with big-boobed girls. And I was so angry at the cardboard women that I was just evil about every little error that came up later (grammar and spelling and things like that). I regret doing that, but I hope I learned from it. Don’t let anger at one part of the writing spill over to everything else. Maybe the booby-women deserved a cutting remark, but there’s no need to be mean over grammar. Just factual (or simple opinion when a grammar point is debated in the larger world).

    We couldn’t really leave, and the guy probably didn’t read my critiques after that.

    I love our McDaniel group, and I want to find a good group of people who concentrate on fantasy. I think maybe a class might be the best way to find likeminded people.

    I also had a non-critique writing group. My writing buddy was really good about sitting down and doing the writing, and then we’d chat over lunch when we were done. But I didn’t show her any of my work, and I think I only read one or two of her things. I think this can be useful motivation. We never were able to make it work online, though. I guess we couldn’t breathe each others’ writing pheromones or something, LOL.

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