I’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?