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Traits of a Successful Critique Group

By Henry McLaughlin

I’m sure we’ve all participated in or heard stories about horrible experiences with critique groups. I’ve had a few myself. Unfortunately, I may have contributed to some of them. To any writers I did this to, I apologize.

I’ve been writing seriously for over ten years. During this time, I’ve participated in many critique groups, both on line and in person. I’m honored and humbled to serve as a writing coach or mentor over numerous groups over the years.

Besides this, I belong to a small weekly in-person group who keep me anchored and encouraged. Society of Solitary Scribes, you know who you are. And thank you.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that successful groups have character traits that distinguish them from the unsuccessful. In no particular order they are:

Honesty

Members are gently honest in sharing their feedback and comments with each other. No holding back to spare someone’s feelings, yet learning to give feedback sensitively so the person can receive it without self-condemnation. And no personal attacks or attempts to dominate or make everyone write the same. Like workout partners, we help each other develop the thick skin necessary to make it in the writing world.

Encouragement

The group is a place where writers give and receive encouragement and support on the writing journey. The group provides a safe and confidential environment, a place where we share triumphs and rejections, struggles and breakthroughs.

Relationships

We build relationships of trust and caring. We move from group members to writing partners to friends.

Learning

We learn the craft through practice and open and honest criticism. We share new insights and knowledge.

Challenging

We call for each other to grow as writers. We won’t let talented writers settle for less. We won’t let struggling writers give up.

Consistency

We show up on time, fully prepared to participate. We adhere to the established rules of the group and submit to the leadership. We learn the value of being writers with discipline, of meeting deadlines, of putting our butts in our chairs to write.

Safety and Trust

Many authors are writing personal stories. Stories of pain, grief, abuse, addiction. Deeply.

At one group recently, an author shared how painful it was to hear someone else read her story. Not because the writing was bad but because the story was so real and alive in her still. She didn’t know if she could continue to write, never mind share it.

I encouraged her that the group was a safe place, a place we can share hurts and pains in life as well as in our writing. I believe, for this person, writing the story is part of her healing. Sharing it in the safety of a writers group will help that healing process. Even if her story is never published, it needs to be written.

What traits have you found that make for a good critique group?

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Henry McLaughlin’s debut novel, Journey to Riverbend, won the 2009 Operation First Novel contest. He serves as Associate Director of Story Help Groups (formerly North Texas Christian Writers). Besides writing fiction, Henry edits novels, leads critique groups, and teaches at conferences and workshops. He enjoys mentoring and coaching individual writers.

 

 

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2 Responses to Traits of a Successful Critique Group

  1. Stacy Simmons says:

    I enjoyed your post thoroughly. My online crit group and I support each other with constructive feedback and prayers. While my “live” crit group gets down to the nitty-gritty of writing with laughter interspersing the critiques.
    It’s a blessing to have a strong support system of friends in this endeavor and it creates a lasting bond.

  2. Henry, a great post. I love critique groups. One thing that makes a great group is when each individual takes the help that is given an actually applies it to their work. I’ve seen it happen on more than one occasion when a writer attends a group faithfully, then publishes their book without changing a thing. A key to a successful group is growth in the participants. It encourages others to apply themselves to be the best writer they can be.