Do Writing Critique Groups Help?

Barbara Custer of Night to Dawn writes horror and science fiction.At the Writers’ Coffeehouse meeting last Sunday we had a discussion on critique groups and whether or not they help. Some people felt it best to stick with a group that has professional people such as published writers or editors. Without such member, said some, people may go to a critique group not really expecting to get published.

It was interesting that this topic came up. When I first started writing, the first piece of advice I got was “join a writer’s group.” At the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, I found plenty of writer’s groups. Some of them specialized in romance; others in nonfiction. Others preferred a mix of genres and subjects. My main consideration, though, was location and dates.

I started out with a group in Plymouth Meeting, PA. I got some great critiques initially, but we wound up becoming more of a social group. We wound up talking about movies, families, everything but writing. The group split up because of this but we remained friends.

I later moved on to Montgomery County Community College Writers’ group. They hold their meetings every other Thursday. I stayed with that group for several years until my problems with night vision made driving difficult. The college is on Route 202 and Morris road, and both of those streets have poor lighting.

For the last year or so I’ve been going to Bucks County Writers’ group in Warminster. They’ve been holding meetings Monday nights and Thursday afternoons. Editor Rita Breedlove runs the group, and I’ve found her critiques invaluable. Humor goes a long way when you’re delivering critiques. I’ve listed the advantages and disadvantages that I’ve found below.

Advantages

  • You can get instant feedback on material you’ve written. This works especially well with a short story if you’re able to read the entire story in one sitting. A novel critique can work if you read installments to the same people each time. The other members can work as your beta readers.
  • Socialization. Let’s face it, writing is a lonely job. I can sit behind the desk so many hours, and then I got to get up and walk around for a little bit, with “little bit” being the operative phrase. After a few minutes, I’m back at my computer. The prospect of showing up at the next meeting empty-handed motivates me to keep writing.

Disadvantages

  • If you’re working on a novel, and can’t get to sequential meetings, you’ll need to spend time filling people in on what happened in your book since the last reading.
  • Your timetable – if you work a day job, then you can’t get to morning or afternoon meetings. During the winter, a bad snowstorm may prohibit attending the meetings. Sometimes you can work around this by agreeing to have an online critique during the winter. Bucks County has done some online critiques, and I’ve been able to schedule days off to get to a meeting.
  • Other members may disagree with each others’ critiques. When this happens, I go with the majority. If one person tells me I’m a balloon, I smile and go about my business. If two people tell me I’m a balloon, I take pause and listen. If three people tell me I’m a balloon, I grab a ribbon and start floating.

All up, my experiences with Bucks County and the other groups have been great. The critiques have enabled me to get my short stories published. For my novels, the critiques point me in the right direction. After I’ve worked extensively on the book, then I take it to a content editor.

So…do you belong to a critique group? How has it worked for you? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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