Can Critique Groups Do More Harm than Good?

After six years in critique, her novel was “perfect.”

Critique groups can be wonderful. They can offer accountability, professionalism, and take our writing to an entirely new level. But, like most, things, critique groups have a dark side. They can become a crutch that prevents genuine growth. Depending on the problems, critique groups can create bad writing habits and even deform a WIP so badly it will lose any chance at being traditionally published.

The key to avoiding problems is to be educated. Not all critique groups are worth our time. Some critique groups might have limitations that can be mitigated with a simple adjustment in our approach.

Traditional Critique Groups

Many of you have attended a traditional critique group. This is the “read a handful of printed pages or read so many pages aloud” groups. Traditional critique groups have some strengths. First and foremost, they can clean up a new writer’s prose.

When we turned in that high school paper with 60 glorious metaphors on page one, we got an A. Why? Because our teacher’s goal was to teach us how to use a metaphor properly. Her job was not to train us for publication in New York.

In a good traditional critique group you will learn that POV does not mean “Prisoners of Vietnam.” You will learn to spot passive voice and “was clusters” and will even learn why adverbs aren’t always extra-nifty. You will hopefully learn self-discipline in that you need to attend regularly and contribute. You will forge friendships and a support network.

So where’s the problem?

Traditional critique groups lack perspective.

Once a week reading fifteen pages only cleans up shoddy prose. Traditional critique groups are looking at a work the size of a skyscraper with a magnifying glass. They lack the perceptual distance to see flaws. A novel can have perfect prose page to page and yet have catastrophic faults. In fact, I would venture to say that most writers are not rejected due to prose, but rather, they meet the slush pile because of tragic errors in structure.

Traditional critique groups can tell you nothing about turning points or whether a scene fits properly. They lack the context to be able to discern if our hero has progressed sufficiently along his character arc by the mid-point of Act 2. They have zero ability to properly critique pacing, since pacing can only be judged in larger context. So, my advice is to get a beta reader that you trust. Critique groups cannot do what only beta readers can.

Traditional critique groups can also hurt us in the following ways.

Traditional groups can get us in a habit of over-explaining.

As we just mentioned,  those in a traditional critique group sitting around the table can’t see the big picture. It is hard to pick up a story on page 86 and understand what is going on. Our fellow writers care about us and believe if they don’t say something that they aren’t helping. Thus, they will say things akin to, “But how did Cassandra end up in a meat locker wearing Under-Roos and wielding a chainsaw? I’m lost.”

Well, duh, of course they are lost.

They have missed the last three weeks and haven’t been keeping up with the story. So learn to resist the urge to over-explain in your prose. Your job is to write a great novel…not 600 individual sections your critique group can follow.

Traditional critique groups are notorious for the Book-by-Committee.

Not everyone’s opinion is equally valid. If you are like me and lean to the people-pleasing side, you can get in a nasty habit of trying to please your critique group at the expense of the big picture. Learn discernment and how to stick to your guns, or you will end up with a Book-by-Committee, also known as Franken-novel.

One great way to know good advice is to READ craft books. Read every craft book you can find. In fact, here is a list of my favorites. That way, when someone offers suggestions, you will know whether or not that advice is supported by leading teachers in the industry.

They can get us in a habit of perfectionism.

The world does not reward perfect novels, it rewards finished novels. I still run into writers that have been working on “perfecting” the same novel for the past ten years. As professionals, we need to learn to LET GO. Either the project was a learning curve and it needs to be scrapped and parted out, or it needs to be handed a lunch box and sent off to play with the big novels via query. Scrap it, part it, or shop it but MOVE ON.

Yes, I know NY publishes novels that have typos and grammar errors. But when writers are under contract, they don’t have 6-10 years to ensure that their manuscript doesn’t have a single misplaced comma. In fact, I would be so bold as to posit that readers don’t generally get to the end of a novel and declare, “Wow! That was riveting. Not one single dangling participle in the entire book!”

There are writers I know who have been working on the same book for 4,5 even SIX years. I see them at conferences dying to land an agent and get that three-book deal. WHY? New York isn’t going to give them another 12-18 YEARS to turn in manuscripts. The hard reality is that, if we hope to make a living at this writing thing, we need to learn to write solid and we need to learn to finish…quickly.

Traditional critique groups can offer a false sense of security.

We must always be looking for ways to have our work critiqued by professionals who are willing to be blunt and who possess the skill set to see our errors. Don’t join a writing critique group simply because they say they are a writing critique group. Look at their credentials. How many traditionally published authors has the group produced? I’m not picking on self-publishing, but self-publishing doesn’t have the same rigorous peer review.

How many people in the group are career writers, authors, or editors? Gathering together because we love writing is always a great idea, but if the group is solely comprised of hopeful unpubbed writers, the critique will be limited. Limited is fine, so long as we make sure to reach beyond our group for additional critique.

Make sure your work is being reviewed by people who will be honest about any problems. Meeting once a week to sing kumbayah is not the best preparation for being published. Once our book is for sale, we are open to the big bad real world of people with nothing better to do than skewer a writer publicly on-line in a blistering review.

You will know them by their fruits…

Make sure any group you join is producing successful novelists. I began Warrior Writer Boot Camp because my old group of six years produced many successful articles, short stories and NF, but they had never produced a successfully published novel. I knew I had to create a different critique format capable of critiquing a leviathan work of 100,000 words or likely that trend would continue.

Some writers naturally understand structure, and so they do fine in the traditional setting. I didn’t naturally understand structure, and my novel ended up on so many bunny trails I needed a pack of plot-sniffing dogs and a GPS to find my original idea. If you are the same, then make sure you take traditional critique for what it is…critique of prose. You might need to find or start another group on your own dedicated to looking at the big picture.

Or…be creative. If you can’t go to the mountain, make the mountain come to you. Next week I am going to give you guys a new approach to a traditional group. Skilled beta readers are hard to find and skilled editors can be expensive. But, apply the technique I will teach you and you will know for sure if your novel has the right stuff.

Critique groups are WONDERFUL. I don’t know what I’d do without mine. But, we are wise to be aware of the trouble spots so that we can get the most out of this fantastic resource.

So what do you guys think? Have you had problems? Or am I off-base? What are your solutions? Ideas? I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

IMPORTANT–I will announce last week’s winner on Wednesday. Need to catch up on a few things since I no longer have an assistant :C. So stay tuned!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

Happy writing!


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  1. I haven’t been in a critique group for years, and I miss it. I’m going to have to go hunting for another one very soon. Cheers, Kristen!

    1. Send me an e-mail, Christine, I’ve got a good one going, if you’re up for meeting in Burbank.

  2. I feel like I truly have the good fortune to be in an amazing critique group – most of us very well read and from the beginning we gave an outline of what was going to happen. But I also think that this is the situation where beta readers are essential – someone who can just sit down and read through. I guess that is why there needs to be both, right?

  3. Great discussion above Kristen. It is absolutely freakin’ essential that we not get bogged down writing about the tree branches lest we get lost in the forest. Then again, I rather adore it when water freezes on tree branches and forms branch-sicles (I call new word). Smirk.

  4. I have never been in a critique group, nor wanted to. It seems like a lot of time and not much value. I am not sure how critiquing a novel in bits and pieces helps, as the group is not getting the entire arc of the story only a small piece. For me, I find that reading up on the craft by those knowledgable as you mention above works, as well as sending out my finished novel to beta readers across demographics…people you know are “readers” and know how to provide constructive edits that make all the difference in improving your novel. I also find, taking classes helps with parts of your book. I am taking my second Write a Novel in 9 Mos class and we work on parts of the novel as you go along – the group/teachers review and critique assignments posted on character introduction, setting, dialogue, tension, etc. And its a great slice to get help on to carry thru your book!

  5. As always I find your blog posts helpful and informative. You make me look at what I’m doing and though I agree in the broader aspect of this blog, I also believe in the writing group I am a part of. Have we produced published novel length authors? yes and no, one in our group has published a non-fiction book. And several of us, like your group, have short stories published in various venues. Many of us read one another’s full manuscripts to give that added overall view. When we begin to bring a new WIP or any piece, we tell the group where we are in the process and what kind of feedback we are looking for. One thing I find about our group, is for a time we became stagnant in our feedback. So comfortable in our responses to one another that we could have written each others comments. We’ve added a few new participants which has brought new insights. I find the group invaluable, but do not rely on them exclusive for feedback.

  6. I’m divorced, remarried, and I live with 4 women – wife and 3 daughters. I’m used to being criticized and being wrong.

    I’m in a critique group and so far they’re a godsend. I’ve become a better writer. I struggle with structure and editing. They help with that.

    I think as long as critque group members treat each otehr compassionately, then you’re gold.

  7. I can definitely see where like Botox, critique groups can benefit. Thanks to your article, I can also see where like Botox, it can be overdone.

    • KreannFW on January 16, 2012 at 10:19 am
    • Reply

    Thanks, Kristen. Your blog keeps enforcing the concept of “moving forward”. I think, especially in today’s high-paced environment, it’s easy to get overwhelmed on all the steps we think we need to take. We start back-pedaling and second-guessing and six months (or 5 years) later, we’re no closer to having a finished product. The quality may be there, but if the ending isn’t, the three-book-deal likely won’t be there either.

  8. My number one rule for suggesting critique groups to writers is to find one where the other members are invested in each others’ success. This is more complex than it sounds, though simply put it, its bookends are no gratuitous negative or positive comments. Everything that gets said must drive the story forward. Listening in for an evening will tell you if these bookends are in place. If not, take your work and move on.

  9. K, This is spot-on and, as you know, I have struggled with the traditional critique setting for a long time. Starting a piece only to have it hammered flat in CG. Turns off creative juices like a heavy hand on a water spigot. I stopped taking my work to a CG until I have “THE END” at the bottom. Then they can help me edit the piece for glaring errors. I stil make those. R

  10. True, true and true! I’ve left one critique group for another. Both are full of wonderful people, but the second struck me as more serious. The second is led by a woman who has published twenty-five books and has a shelf of books at home in which she’s thanked for her encouragement and concrete suggestions. I listen to all of the comments and take those I honestly think will make my work better while not stomping on my voice or changing the story I want to tell. My current work is more suited to a critique group as it’s a collection of short stories, but I totally agree with your point on the big picture – very hard to do on the installment program. We usually end up giving a short synopsis of the story to date before reading the current few pages.

    Looking forward to hearing more about beta readers as that’s probably my next step 🙂

  11. Great post, Kristen.

    If you have a crit group only comprised of new writers, it might be a recipe for disaster. The blind are leading the blind. They might be able to see a problem but they have no idea how to fix it. And criticisms, because they don’t know how to critique, can become personal. Feelings get hurt. It’s not pretty. However a group with a mix of abilities, especially if you’re lucky to have a published author among the group who’s honest, then that group can become a real force for good.

    We need beta-readers who are rabid readers. That might sound obvious, but what good is someone who chomps their way through a book a month? What we need are readers who devour our genre, who can spot an issue early. The thing is that readers read a book completely differently to a critique partner/group. When my beta reader tells me she couldn’t put it down and wants to know what happens next then I know I’ve hit the spot. I’m on the right track. She’s a smart cookie and if I can surprise her and have her turn the pages to The End then I know I’ve scored.

  12. Great post. The answer is in the title picture.

  13. I think a lot of it depends on the critique group, but it also depends on the writer’s position of power in it. If the writers comes into the critique group just expecting everyone to tell him what he did wrong so he can fix it, he’s coming from a position of weakness. He has to know enough about his own writing so that he can determine if that actually is the problem or if the critiquer doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

    One of the things that I’ve done over the last year is to understand better about my process and why I make specific types of mistakes. One of the mistakes I make is that I often will add one more word, and it’ll be too much (a bad habit from running too short). At a workshop I attended, I got a comment from a participant that I’d used a cliche — dark shadow. If I didn’t know that I add extra words, I might have assumed that really was a cliche. I can imagine an inexperienced writer revising the sentence extensively and never getting at the real problem. All I did was remove the word dark.

    In one of the critique groups I was in, they tended to go to the line edit level and never look at the big picture. Not only that, some of the writers didn’t want the big picture. They were fine as long as they got the easy checklist of things to fix and ignored the major story problems. The result was that I got critiques on my story that were things like, “Change this word because I don’t know what it means” — and every single writer missed the big picture problems that were major issues in my story.

    I just joined a new group, and it looks like they might have value from what I’ve seen. They have people who look at the overall story and try to follow the continuity of it each time it is critique, and they have people who are the details gurus. And they emphasize that the writer can put down concerns, things to look for, so I can use what I know about my writing to guide the direction of my critique.

  14. Though my critique group is somewhat helpful, my 3 beta readers have been so much more so. I tell them I have a thick skin, so be sure to tell me the honest truth. Anything less doesn’t help me.

    I can’t wait to read what you’re going to post about next week, when you said: “I am going to give you guys a new approach to a traditional group…apply the technique I will teach you and you will know for sure if your novel has the right stuff.”

    Looking forward to it, Kristen!

    • Donna Martin on January 16, 2012 at 11:03 am
    • Reply

    As always, Kristen, I find myself eagerly awaiting to read your posts and today was no different!! The only issue I had was not knowing what a “beta reader” was, and I was happy to discover you are going to explain what that elusive creature is within your next blog. Thank you for all your “writer wisdom”…I can’t tell you how much it means to me and has helped me to grow personally as a writer!

  15. I was part of a crit group where everyone was enthusiastic and well-intentioned, but it wasn’t the right group for me. When I found them I was a newbie writer and didn’t know any better than to take every single piece of crit advice offered, and then rush to make the “appropriate” changes to my WIP. Between the group and my over-zealous revisions, I came very close to killing my book. I actually blogged about this just the other day at I’m part of new group now and it’s working out very well. The first group was full of lovely people who just wanted to help; they just weren’t sure exactly what kind of help to offer, and I wasn’t a mature enough writer to know what advice to take and what to ignore.

  16. YES! YES! YES!

    Over the years I’ve withdrawn from most critique groups except for the occasional local group that I attend mostly so I can see real people. (Oh, look that’s what real people look like.) But over the years, I’ve encountered every situation you’ve discussed above. I’ve seen writers get trapped by the situations above and not be able to get clear of them.

    It’s not that critique groups are bad. But a writer may need some experience before they know what to do with critique group feedback. These days people seem to be using a critique group as sort of a free writing class. The problem is that they’re too democratic for that. It’s like stepping into a class with 40 other students acting as instructors and trying to get you to follow their advice. Most of them have no more experience than the new student so as much as they mean to help, they may not succeed in helping.

    I know acquisitions editors. I know people who slush read for agents. No one is going to reject a killer story because you misplaced a comma.

  17. I belong to a few crit groups and have bonded strong relationships with a few serious writers. Too often new writers don’t take time to learn the craft, depending upon the knowledge of others to correct their work. When the critique circle revolves around the tit-for-tat scenario, you don’t always get out of it what you put in. For instance, I don’t need someone to do a FIND and highlight every “was, were, had, that, etc.” that appears in my manuscript. That’s not helpful. lol

  18. I actually have some of these problems with my personal critique group. As a planner, I built up my story, and checked it to my partners after every major restructuring. Some of them were cool with this, some got annoyed, but one had a specific request:

    “Don’t show it to me until you have pages.”

    I don’t know what drives them to value a handful of pages of prose over the story itself, but they would not look at the outlines and summaries anymore. This same writer doesn’t like listening to critique of her overall structure, so maybe it’s a particular stumbling block?

    In general, I agree, we need to find good critique groups that help us improve at every step of the process.

  19. I’ve never been in one of those traditional critique groups, and now I’m thinking that’s a good thing. 🙂 I like my critique partners and beta readers and bounce-stuff-off-of support groups just fine, thanks! LOL!

  20. As always, you are “right on” with this one, Kristen. Fortunately, I have what I consider to be an excellent critique group. We don’t mince words, we try to meet every other week, we critique entire pieces when possible and we’ve become life-long friends. Two of four are published; one multiple times in multiple fields; and one is adding 3 books to her resume, slated for publication this year.

    Studying the craft of writing is one of our big things. Together we’ve gone through one writing craft book, sharing the exercises at the end of each chapter and are currently on lesson 4 of a 24 lecture series titled, Building Great Sentences, from University of Iowa Professor, Brooks Landon.

    My writing has improved drastically since finding these talented women writers.

    Thanks for another great read.

  21. I can see how critique groups can cause issues like that, especially as I’ve been a member of a few writing websites where I’ve got critique like that on my work, and it was frustrating getting comments that showed they either missed things, or only had part of the story. My critique partners and I exchange whole manuscripts, and we each have different strengths. One is a plotting queen, another shines in line editing and world-building, and a third rocks at characterization and historical accuracy. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. 🙂

    1. Noelle- I covet your group. Let me know when you want a 4th!!

  22. My critique group isn’t traditional; it’s online. It has its issues, as nothing is ever perfect, but with regards to structure, pacing, and looking for plot holes, it works better than a traditional critique group because the chapters are up for us to read and critique at our leisure.

    The biggest problem that we have is one that is inherent in any group that doesn’t have any traditionally published novelists; we don’t have that professional, critical eye. All of us approach each others’ writing from an experiential point of view. That’s not to say none of us read craft books because I certainly do, and I’m fairly certain the others do as well.

    BTW, Kristen, are you taking applications for a new assistant?

  23. And then there are the bruised egos and petty envies….My experience with critique groups has run the gamut from good to terrible to just right–a real Goldilocks experience. I wouldn’t give up my writers’ group, though. Even when it’s not perfect it is a valuable part of my writing life.

    Always enjoyable, Kristen. Thanks.

  24. And I thought we were building up to a kumbayah get-together – dash! LOL Great advice, Kristen!

  25. I’ve never been a group person. I rather work with craft books and apply their advice and excercises on my writing. I have a critique partner who’ll see the whole manuscript and some sparring buddies but I won’t be showing my story to anyone else until I have finished it and revised it.

    Then it goes to a few beta readers and based on their feedback, I revise it more. After that I’ll get professional critique and editing help. That’s as much critique as I think I need.

  26. “Plot-sniffing dogs” – I could use a pack of those, LOL. I’m so thankful for WWBC. While I learned a lot in a general sense about creative writing from a critique group I was in a while back, I didn’t get useful critiques about MY book. Except for one other person, it was all short story writers, and it got really tedious having to explain so much.

  27. I’ve never been in a critique group, but I’ve gotten an amazing amount of benefit from using critique partners.

    What do you think about using a member of your critique group who’s given great feedback as one of your beta readers? Is that a no-no because they’ve already heard parts of the book?

  28. What a refreshing post! I have a love/hate thing with critique groups. I have a good one now, but I also know I need to ignore a good deal of what they say. Mostly it motivates me to have a new chapter to read every week, so no matter how many other projects I’m working on, my new WIP doesn’t get ignored.

    But you are so right about Franken-novels. I spent 10 years on a book that ended up like that horrific photo. Yes, a whole decade. I wrote and re-wrote, trying to please everybody–and ended up with an unpublishable mess.. Recently I found an early version of it. I was astonished how good it was compared with the later horrors.

    Critiquers all have their own agendas. What they say only rarely has anything to do with your work. It’s often simply about their own obsessions. So I go for the companionship and moral support (and champagne celebrations when we sign contracts) and ignore most of the comments.

  29. I’m in a writing group, and there is one published novelist in it, but I have never thought to bring in the whole novel, both for the reasons you give and because it would take a year to get through, one ten minute segment at a time. I did bring in the first two chapters, just to help with getting it started.
    Two of the women in the group offered to read it; however, I am still waiting for feedback and beginning to think they will never give any.
    I’ve had one acquaintance read the whole thing and say she couldn’t put it down and loved my characters, but that didn’t feel very constructive, either. I’m right at the point where I need help finding a good beta reader, so I’m excited for next week’s post.

  30. I’ve been in one critique group for 3 years. It has become a close-knit group of friends, but I do get something out of every meeting. However, it does take 4 hours out of every week, and I’m rethinking this. I also learn just as much from critiquing other people’s work as I do when they critique mine. We are limited to 6, but usually 3-4 show up.

    I also have a one-on-one critique partner meeting once a week for less than 2 hours. She catches things in my writing every time.

    But I am fast exceeding what these groups can handle, and would love to get involved with other prolific romance writers in the paranormal/and or contemporary genres. I write 3-4 books a year, and have more words that need a critical eye than I have time to return. And that is my problem. All my friends are writers who also need beta readers. And I can’t honestly return the favor, so I hesitate to get involved with a promise of such. I don’t even have time for reviews of some of my best friends, sadly.

    How does one manage this?

  31. I was in a critique group with a group of fantastic women who are still my friends. I loved the idea but I wasn’t finished with my MIP yet. Trying to critique an unfinished manuscript sent me into inner-critic mode and it was hard to shake. I definitely liked the feedback but I wasn’t ready for it at the time.

  32. This post is so important and Kristen tells it like it is.
    I fell into the right critique group for my writing stage(novice), about three years ago taught by a published children’s book author of four books. We have 5 page readings with 2 minute critiques from small group of 7 people. We don’t respond until after everyone is done with their feedback.

    After 1 1/2 years I felt I needed more to grow and joined another, but still kept the old one as they are pretty good as ‘beta’ readers and for moral support.

    I’m now in a paid one with retired university professor of creative writing, editor, and himself published. NO timers, about 10 pages, but his critiques are professional and have helped me grow as a writer. The group participants are at mid stage and higher (a couple with published books).

    Critique groups are important, decide whether you like structured or unstructured, and find one for your stage of writing.

  33. First off – what a creepy picture! I thought the weirdo dream I had last night was rough.. I hope to Hades I don’t dream about that creature!

    Now on to the topic. I belong to a critique group (Critique Corner) courtesy of A lot of the people are very helpful. But then there is one or two that blast others’ work (mine) off the page and then say, “that’s just my opinion, I’ve never written anything.”

    My first thought is: “Why the hell are you here then? To criticize people so you feel warm and gushy at night?”

    And I would have appreciated the person’s critique if it applied to my work. But it didn’t. It applied to me having three WORDS IN CAPS.

    Anyhoo.. I would love to find a legitimate critique group. I think it would be fun for stuff like short stories and blog posts.

    Great post, Kristen!

  34. I’ve been in several critique groups and it wasn’t until I quit them that I got my MS completed. Trying to write a novel and have a chapter ripped apart at the same time got confusing, not to mention my newbie writer ego took a beating. I’ve toughened up, finished the darn book, and am now very happy with my beta readers and critique partner. It takes finding who you are as a writer and having the confidence to accept the hard truth about your MS. It helps tremendously to have a critique group that is open to your genre. They don’t have to love it, but at least be willing to give honest feedback on plot and structure and not get snippy because there is an element to your story they just can’t fathom (magic in fantasy, yes some people called me out for that).

    It’s all about finding what works best for you. One-on-one, a large group, smaller groups, they are all beneficial if the critique is honest and helpful.

    • Jamie Burton on January 16, 2012 at 12:55 pm
    • Reply

    Truer words have never been written. I recently stepped out of a critque group, I’d been in for two years, because I’d outgrown them. When we started they all said they were serious about getting published, but they didn’t keep learning and trying to grow their craft. When I mentioned structure, for the hundreth time, they rolled their eyes and collectively told me they were pansers.

    Two other like minded ladies and myself have started what we’re calling “A Plotting Critique Group” First crit, the outline, second crit, to the first plot point, third to the midpoint, etc. This way we have kicked around ideas for each others plotts, found holes and filled them and understand where the writer is going with their story. When we crit we can actually see if the writer accomplished what she wanted in her set of pages. Yes, doing it this way means we will be reading up to a hundred pages at once. We only meet once a month (any member can call an emergency session) and kept the group to three people to solve the problems.

    I’ve found that already published authors aren’t open to letting unpublished authors join their critique groups. If you encounter that problem make sure the unpublished authors you join up with have the same goals, and motivation to be published as you do.

    Jamie Burton

    • ethyl smith on January 16, 2012 at 12:59 pm
    • Reply

    Being alongside the lucky published, or better still the experienced published, is great provided they are honest and take no prisoners in their critique. You sharpen up smartish if you listen, think about it then use or not if you think appropriate….it usually is.

  35. I’m on my third crit group; second one that I myself organize and moderate (though I pass the baton when my work is up).

    What works for us, in this incarnation is: no newbies (If I never read another badly written memoir, “already formatted”…) and a set of rules we all agree to, including a short verbal catch-me-up summary by the author. Granted, it took me years to find/build this group of people, but there’s huge trust and talent in this group.

    1. Where?

  36. Brilliant, need a critique group like this in York England.Looking forward to the next session with you.

  37. this is a fascinating post because it discusses the possible downsides of the critique group. too many writing “how to” books say that the critique group is the only way to go, with no consideration that certain groups will not work for certain writers. thanks for the list of your favorite resource books, it’s always helpful to see what others recommend. like you, i am a huge fan of “save the cat”.

  38. I’ve had limited success with critique groups. They’re wonderful for line-editing input, and to some extent for character development and story arc (we read 10 pages each, every week, for ten weeks at a time). The downside is that not every person in the group has experience in the same type of writing (style, length, finished goal) or experience in publishing. It’s an uneven quota of people with multiple books published, years of writing experience, and zip. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – I don’t want to sit with a bunch of writers who all produce the same kind of work and read the same books.

    Variety is good, but sometimes too much variety means you spin your wheels and fail to find purchase, your edits languish or the group gets sidelined and focus shifts to some aspect of the story that is less critical to the plot.

    As writers we produce work that is distinct to our voice, style, and flavor – and in a critique setting we sometimes allow that to influence what we think of another’s writing. In fact, it is difficult to keep from letting it color what we think.

    I don’t discourage writers from trying critique groups; but for me, I’ve found it to be of mixed value. A bevy of beta readers is wonderful. Having writer friends to chat about craft, successes and failures is critical. A critique group is great, so long as you get something of value from it…otherwise you’re just procrastinating or wasting time.

  39. I’ve been considering joining a critique group for some time, but have had some qualms about it. You’ve addressed most of them in this post.

    Over the years I’ve been lucky to have a group of beta readers rally around me and offer their time. They’ve read my current book in its various drafts, and each reader provides different, yet valuable feedback. There’s something powerful about the feedback you get after a reader goes through your entire piece.

    Still, I’ve always felt that joining a critique group is a rite of passage that I really ought to go through as a writer. After reading this post, I’ll move forward with caution and join only when I get a *really* good feeling about a particular group.

    Thank you for another wonderful piece!

  40. I love when this topic is addressed. My undergrad was in creative writing so I’ve been involved in too many critique groups and workshops to count. Although I learned some things from them, I often questioned school-based critique groups in terms of how helpful they are to writers who ultimately wanted to be published.

    First, in many instances, not a single person in the class–not even the teacher–has been traditionally published. All of the students were there to learn just like I was. And I’ll whisper this next part as to not offend any of my teachers. Come closer to the screen. Can you hear me? Ok. With some of my teachers, I felt that if they really knew the ropes, they would be churning out novels somewhere. Not teaching. The fact that you may not be able to go to Barnes and Noble or to pick up any of the works of any of your teachers or anyone who graduated from your school’s writing program was a problem for me. Granted, some people only have the desire to teach, and some students may devote four years to a writing program just for fun, but do those they represent the majority?

    Second, it seemed as though many of us were being nurtured toward writing very similar things. Although there are many genres and thousands of books published every year, it seemed as though all the things that made us as writers different were being whittled away toward a work that could have just as easily had my name or any other student’s name on it without any way to discern that there was any form of difference in writing styles.

    I won’t even go too deep on the topic of how the critiques being graded effect the critique. But if you’re being graded for finding things wrong or right with a work and you have to write a page or more of your findings, things that probably didn’t really bother you now become noteworthy because you have a certain word or page count you need to reach in order to get credit for the assignment.

    Lastly, when dealing with amateurs, people’s opinions are swayed based on who they believe to be authorities. If I take an unknown work of Shakespeare or Faulkner and submitted them to a critique group with my name on it, the work would be massacred because it would appear to be coming from someone just learning the art form. However, if people knew that Shakespeare or Proust wrote it, then it would probably be the most wonderful thing they’d ever read because they had already been conditioned to believe that their works are already good without even reading them. When we read the teacher’s work in class, no one ever had any feedback or criticism. I wonder what would have happened if that same submission had have been provided to the class without the teacher’s name on it.

  41. I like your comment about traditional critique groups focusing on prose. I see that in my group. For short stories, we get more about structure, but not as much in novels. Fortunately, I joined mine with no writing experience, so everything they taught me was valuable

  42. Kristen, I really appreciated and related to this post. I, too, was attending a critique group until I started teaching Wednesday night classes and had to take a breather. I can recognize the value in such groups, but I have also experienced the tendency of some critique-group cronies to pick on the minute details, rather than to mind the “bigger picture”.

    Are there any critique groups who actually look at the printed pages of a manuscript, rather than just listen to the author reading it? Since most readers are just that — readers, rather than listeners — doesn’t it make more sense to pass around manuscript pages for critique members to mark?

    I’d really be interested in your feedback as well as the experiences of others who might have this same concern.

  43. Oh, one humorous note about a critique session? My target audience is mostly women — women that might enjoy Lifetime Channel or Lifetime Movie Network . At ibe of the last critiques I attended, I read a lively, ten-minute portion of my draft in which one of the main characters was having a knock-down-drag-out with another character. A comment I received from a male crit member (and author of self-pubbed Westerns) was “Sheesh! This is LMN stuff!”

    He meant it as a slur, but I felt like hugging him!

  44. Oops! Make that “…women who…”!

  45. I love my critique group- we began meeting every week to try and help with the continuity problem, but one on one we offer to read full drafts for people after it’s been revised and critiqued.

    Also I just found out that my RWA chapter (on my advice *preens pompously*) has booked you for our April meeting! I can’t wait to meet you in person!

    1. Oh my gosh! That would be SOOOO fantastic. How lucky you are to actually learn from Kristen in person.
      Do you mind telling me what state you live in or what chapter you belong to?

      1. The Saguaro Romance Writers in Tucson AZ
        Are you close by?

  46. Hi,yet another insightful post Kristen! I’ve belonged to a critique (workshop) for my poetry for years with excellent contructive critcisms the order of the day, but have never seen how this could work for novels, as you say a handful of pages doesn’t work when you are writing a whole book. As for finding a writing critique group with pubished authors in our corner of Cornwall.. impossible!
    However, I do have a couple of beta readers but these just ‘happened’, I didn’t set out to find the ‘right’ person and now I think I ought to. ( to add to my originals – wouldn’t want to upset them;) ) What do you think are the characteristics I should look for in a great beta reader?

  47. I really appreciate this post because I’ve been at a crossroads with my critique group since the debacle of a Christmas party. Thing is, we’ve taken on a large number of new writers and we seem to spend the majority of our time wading through their brave works. I’m all for lending a helping hand but I have started admittedly, to feel like it’s all ‘take and no give’. I’ve felt like I don’t want to attend again this year and felt the attendant guilt! So thanks for adding to the mix Kristen….

  48. This post made me think a lot about the nature of critique groups — and their make up.

    The first critique group I ever belonged to was dedicated to fiction, but didn’t specialize in sci-fi/fantasy/spec fic/etc., and those of us who wrote the dreaded “genre fiction” got SKEWERED by the rest of the group. Since it was part of a huge city Meetup, I was able to start a group for those of us with many lashings and wounds to lick, and that group is still going strong. The new leader has a quarterly literary magazine now, and several others write fiction and non-fiction (all in-genre) for other publications. One is on his way to publication of his darling via graphic novel.

    Thanks for this post — I haven’t joined any new critique groups in the last year because I got sick of the first ten pages of my novel getting put through the ringer when people never got any farther.

  49. So true. Wish I’d seen this five years ago!

  50. My critique group is small but we each have our strengths and weaknesses that seem to complement one another. We still have much to learn, but the honest input we give each other is a wondeful and I think rare gift.

    Sometimes the simple push of hearing “just send it” from someone else helps me let go and stop fussing over whether it’s perfect.

  51. Alright, Kristin. You were looking at me, weren’t you? My WIP will officially be 3 years old next month and you’re invited to the birthday party. 😉

    When I joined Twitter, I’d written 80,000 words, some of it sparkling but most of it a mucky, sucky morass of purple prose. I knew something wasn’t right, something was missing. But thanks to finding people like you (don’t blush) and learning from your mistakes (you made the mistakes so I don’t have to, right?) I’m rewriting my baby. I’m 20,000 words in and I’ve given myself to the end of the year to either finish it or retire it. Wish me luck.

  52. I have been a part of two different critique groups and have wondered their value beyond support many times. I have to say that I love the support system they build. But, I agree that they are not always helpful for developing my writing. I have had some helpful critiques, but I have also had some where I wonder if the person has read a book on craft ever. To my knowledge, neither group has produced a published novelist–several short stories, yes, but nothing more. I have seen many examples of great writing and the curse of insecurity when you write. I don’t think I could give it up though because it is the one thing that keeps me accountable and keeps me on schedule. My ROW80 goals and Twitter network helps, but these are real life people who I have to see face to face every week, so I have to be prepared.
    Thanks for this post and for your book, We Are Not Alone. You can see #mywana goals on my blog at

    Have a great and peaceful week and stay groovy!

  53. I belong to a couple of groups (both of which have multi-published authors) that I like, but more for the fun of hanging out with other writers. I agree that it’s very hard to judge a novel based on a few pages. A good critique partner or beta reader who will read the whole thing and tell you if your middle’s sagging is of greater value once your novel’s written – of course you can still bring difficult scenes to your group to judge if they work as a scene.

    One of the thing a critique group does for you is to improve your ability to critique other people’s writing, which is a learning experience in itself.

  54. Kristen,

    I don’t disagree with many of the challenges you mention that are inherent to traditional critique groups. They are all possible and any members need to be aware of them.

    I think the important thing about any critique group is the level of support and solid constructive critique found there.The writer must ultimately make the decision of how much of the critique is valid and how much is not. But whether or not he/she modifies his/her manuscript based on the critique, he/she has at least been compelled to look at the passages critiqued. Often, even though it might not have been completely valid, the critique points out an issue that does need to be addressed. I feel that any feedback from an audience is beneficial.

    I have been in several critique groups but the one I find most beneficial is my current one. The benefits go beyond the actual criitique I receive when I read my work in progress. I am fortunate to belong to a group of talented, knowledgable, experienced writers who are also avid readers. Because they read (in their own genres and others, they are aware of contemporary themes and trends.

    I find that the friendships and working realationships I’ve forged with other writers in this group are as important, if not more important, than the interaction that takes place during the workshop

    Some of us meet occasionally for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
    We phone, facebook, twitter and email each other and visit each other’s websites and blogs.
    We celebrate each other’s publications, buy and read each other’s published books, and write reviews.
    We spotlight and interview each other on our blogs.
    We share information we’ve acquired, teach classes, help each other set up social networks and are always there to listen when someone needs to vent for a moment.

    Since writing is such a solitary profession, I find it very appealing to have a professiona/social group made of ofther writers.

    So, in answer to your original question, for me, a goid critique group does more good than harm.


  55. I’ve been in the same critique group for 7 years. I love the three women I share my work with and consider them great friends outside of writing.
    I trust them completely and we work together like a well oiled machine. We challenge each other, we are honest and we strive for success.
    I wouldn’t give them up for the world.
    But, this post makes me think. Am I selling myself short? Should I search for a second critique group?
    Definite food for thought.
    I have a few beta readers. Jami Gold read for me once and her input was invaluable. I also have two non-writer betas. My sisters are BRUTALLY honest and are both avid readers, so they sometimes see things that my crit group overlooks.
    I get opinions on my work from a variety of people, but I’ve learned a lot over the years. I’ve devoured a number of books on craft and this quote of yours “Not everyone’s opinion is equally valid. If you are like me and lean to the people-pleasing side, you can get in a nasty habit of trying to please your critique group at the expense of the big picture. Learn discernment and how to stick to your guns, or you will end up with a Book-by-Committee, also known as Franken-novel,” is as educating as anything I’ve read up until now.
    Thank you very much for this post. It will help me stay true to my voice.
    And if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll find a second group of women to help me improve even further.
    Have a wonderful evening,

  56. Kristen, your advice is most timely. I will be attending my first critique group tomorrow!

    1. I submit to all, that a critique group means different things to different writers with differing degrees of skill in the art. I came to the game a rank amateur with skills harkening back to my high school days. (I could write my name) OMG! My critique group has been extremely educational, but, as I mentioned in an earlier note, the skilled writers have somewhat overwhelmed me with suggestions. I followed them in rewrite after rewrite, till I lost the spark to continue. If you are considering joining such a group go for it.

  57. I’m fortunate to be in a great one, but I’ve been a couple of bad ones in the past. They can do quite a bit of damage unless as you say you’ve educated yourself and have a strong sense of your own work.

    • Amanda on January 16, 2012 at 8:01 pm
    • Reply

    Wow! Really wicked timing for this blog about critique groups as I am currently searching for one. I had questions about how worth my time they are and you answered most of them. Also I now know I need one because my family’s ready to strangle me and it’s only been 3 months & my goal is another 6 months before I have a mostly finished manuscript. So hard core help is not negotiable (did I mention this is my first novel?) Lol

  58. I agree that some critique groups can do more harm than good. But mine has been invaluable. We meet every other week and work through chapters chronologically, so we do see the big picture. Therefore, we are getting notes about character journeys and story arcs. And we’re also free to bring an idea to the meeting to brainstorm if we need to do that instead. I think it works because we don’t have any set rules about what you can and can’t submit. I’m very blessed to have them!

  59. Finding a good critique group is so very difficult, for writers and artists. Thanks for the pointers and the nightmares I’ll be having from that photograph. Scary.

  60. I’m not in a critique group. I’ve thought about it, but it’s hard for me to devote the time to so many others. With a full time job, a family, plus self-publishing, it’s nearly impossible. I did try, once. But I can’t promise them the time, and that’s not fair.

  61. A writing friend invited me to join her group several months ago because I expressed a desire to write again after four years of feeling sorry for myself because I had a stroke. From that perspective, it’s been a Godsend, and Mary, my beloved spouse, is glad that I’m spending time with someone besides her. Having said that, I’ve learned that the members of the group each have a different idea of how a story should be told and that I need to take any suggestions apart from correcting technical issues (“shoddy prose,” spelling, grammar, point of view, factual errors, etc.) with a grain of salt. It also appears that only half of us are engaged in a writing project, and although each of us has an assigned week for submissions, there are weeks that there is nothing to critique.

    I’ve only submitted short stories so far. A novel is still a way off, and the advantage of short stories is that they’re self-contained, requiring little or no explanation of “the story so far”. I’m at a disadvantage in critiquing everyone else’s work, because I’m generally picking up in the middle of a novel (in one case, I’m starting in the middle of the third book in the guy’s series, none of which have been published and which involve complex interactions between multiple alien races). I think that having a beat sheet or outline for the whole novel (or series) would help tremendously; unfortunately, no one seems to use either.

    Still, they’re a reasonably supportive group, and have adapted to the fact that I live 800 miles away and join them via Google Talk.

  62. I have enjoyed great and weak groups. My first encounter was with fabulous. They meet in NYC and my life has me in Wyoming half the year, I learned to fly for the shear pleasure of a red eye. I tried a second group but they are well intentioned but scattered about what I call “the devotion.” It is not easy to find souls with the same level of drive and passion, and who can push you to make all words in the book have a sound and a heartbeat.
    Caroline Gerardo
    Author, Performance Poet

  63. Kristen,
    While your post raises a lot of good points about the pitfalls of critique group, you make an inherent assumption that critique group members only focus on grammar and spelling and don’t understand “craft of fiction” issues. This may true of some groups, but it has not been my experience. The members of my critique group are adroit at spotting structure problems, inconsistencies regarding the story, or issues with characters. I believe, as you’ve stated, that writers must be careful to join the right critique group, with members who have either been published or have writing and editing experience. I am thankful that I found such a group. Thanks for another informative post.

    1. No group can spot structure issues unless there is a format that allows for the big picture. How can a member accurately discern where the writer is in 100,000 word work by reading 5 pages at a time? They may be able to help a little, but not much. It’s like trying to judge the quality of an entire symphony one bar a week. How would we accurately know where a crescendo or decrescendo should be if we cannot see it in the larger context of the entire piece of music? We can’t. It is a perceptual impossibility. I never stated that our fellow critique members lacked the skills to critique structure. I stated they lacked the perceptual distance to be able to judge it effectively and I stand by that assertion. I have run critique groups for eight years and worked with hundreds of writers. The five-page critique, because the view is so narrow, often by default goes to line-edit simply because it is too hard to do much more. I also stated that a group could help with prose and that is more than simple line-edit and grammar.

      There has to be a format that permits a larger view of the work and, if there is that format, then it doesn’t fit the standard critique group.

  64. I’ve attended a number of crit groups that follow the path you describe. That’s why I like to depend on a trusted writing/critique partner who knows the BIG picture.

    But, I’ve sought a community of focused, professional writers. A group that did not include members bringing the SAME chapter to be critiqued for two years. Especially those who lived in YebbitVille in their determination to bring the same prose back until we collectively changed our minds and declared it “BRILLIANT!”

    I will bring a new ms to the WWBC dropbox. The fifteen page critique I won (Woot! Thank you!) is from my current WIP. Expect it in your inbox tomorrow. You have been warned. 😉

  65. I agree with you, Kristen. Five pages a week is barely there. My CP’s and I do large chunks because we meet only alternate weeks, Each understands the others’ prmises, outline, goals, etc. so we can critique more fairly. At the end of the book, we do a beta read for continuity. It works well for us.

    For other groups, I’ve seen destructive criticism, plaigiarism (happened to me), and bad advice. I have a friend who actually stopped writing after a verbal attack by someone she thought was a friend. Choosing critique partners is like shopping for a spouse, because it is a marriage of minds and only beneficial when everyone understands up front what is expected and needed.

    • Donna Martin on January 17, 2012 at 11:32 am
    • Reply


    I loved this post so much that I wrote a companion post to it on my blog and gave you a shout-out for my readers. Here it is if anyone wants to look at it…

    Thanks for all you do for the writing community!

    • Donald Bueltmann on January 17, 2012 at 11:41 am
    • Reply

    I belong to a wonderful critique group, very well educated, teachers, administrators, editors. we enjoy critiquing each other’s work and have a lot of laughs. I have one problem! I write fantasy, none of them read, watch or eagerly await sequels to fantasy books. They don’t know the difference between going through a portal or taking the Metro, can not visualize the awesome power of a fireball hurled by a wizard.
    I’ve considered sharing my work with online fantasy groups but I’m afraid all that would do is supply hungry writers with new plot ideas.
    Any suggestions?

    1. Start your own group? It is tough to find the perfect group. I think that was why I broke away and created my own. If you are in DFW you are welcome to join WWBC’s Alpha Team.

  66. You and I have been beating this drum for years now. Keep beating it long and loud, Kristen. It’s worth continuing to repeat.

  67. I love your “you’ll know them by their fruits” point. If you’re not growing as a writer, verifiably so (i.e., your own fruits are flourishing) it’s time to opt out.

    I started my own writers group for another reason — human contact. LOL

    Another fantastic post worth bookmarking and sharing. Thanks, Kristen!

  68. I’ve never been to a critique group. I see the allure, but I’ve never found the time. Honestly, this post makes me glad I haven’t! I have people I trust to read my work in full and that seems to have worked out well enough for me–thank goodness.

  69. I’ve been looking unsuccessfully for a local critique months for a few months now. This makes me feel better about not having found one! I like the insight here, especially the emphasis on FINISHING A NOVEL. Definitely needed that kick in the pants 🙂

  70. It’s almost impossible to find a critique group that’s non-traditional in my part of the country, but I’m so grateful for NaNoWriMo because it has connected me with writers with similar goals in my area!

    So far, in my experience, critique groups work best when they’re small. I’m so blessed to have a good group of writing friends now (there’s five of us) that are familiar with the genres we each like to write, and have learned what things to watch for in each other’s writing.

    We’re in the process of forming a larger critique group out of it, but I think the five of us will remain the core and keep meeting privately for a long time!

    I think what you say about making sure a group you join is producing successful novelists – that was my one problem with all the established groups in the area. There were some published authors, but most I’d never heard of, and none wrote fantasy. I don’t think critiquing a memoir is the same as critiquing a fantasy.

    So, while our little group hasn’t published anything yet, it’s a common goal we’re each working toward.

    • Cynthia Bates on January 17, 2012 at 5:42 pm
    • Reply

    I facilitate an amazing group of children’s writers. We are extremely craft oriented and all members of SCBWI. Education is a must and we all embrace it and share what we learn. Past memebers of this group who have risen up to become published are Jay Asher and Robin Mellom. But each of us have publishing credits. How we deal with the problem of critiquing in bits and pieces is that the members are encouraged to come to group even if not reading to keep on board with the other members’ novels. AND when a book has finished it’s run through the group and been through at least one or two rewrites, we offered to give it total read. That way we can see threads dropped, and the story arc and such. It is a lot of work, but our members do it willing. I can say I am blessed to know this group of dedicated and amazing writers–SLOWriter’s for Children.

  71. Definately a great post! I find a critique group invaluable, but you’re so right – the RIGHT group is what makes all the difference. And, as we grow as writers, we may outgrow our critique group and need to move on. The problem many writers make is sticking with a group they’ve outgrown so that they are no longer getting the help they need.

  72. Like anything else in life, if we are writing we have to have faith in ourselves to write what we believe in.

    I can listen to people tell me I am doing my day job wrong and I take their criticism on board, but ultimately I make the decision about whether they are right or wrong. I don’t think writing is any different.

    I seek feedback from readers, I need that feedback – but it is ultimately up to me to decide what action I take.

  73. This blog is really helpful to me. I’m working on getting a small critique group together to help us create new fiction of all kinds and it is good for folks to realize that they can’t fill every role for each other. I’m hoping that by showing my group what they can do if they try to Alpha read for each other. Or what is your opinion on a critique group doing Alpha reading for each other? I’m curious just cause I want to make this group a success and any greater information I can get my hands on would be great. Please let me know.

  74. I love the perspective that critique groups offer, but boy did you hit the nail on the head here! I think one possible solution to many of these problems is developing a relationship with a beta reader you trust. Obviously, beta readers have their cons too, especially because they only provide one perspective, whereas critique groups provide multiple perspectives, which can be very useful – I don’t know how many times I’ve been sitting in a critique group and half the group disagree with the other half about a potential change! While that kind of experience can be frustrating, it also helps remind us that writing is subjective and no one person is an absolute authority.

    Ack, I’ve gone off topic! Anyway, I think that it’s good to have a balance of critique groups, beta readers, and moments where you trust your gut even if you’re the only voice in the room.

  75. Hi ya,
    Your on the money with this post. I’ve just joined a group – have been going for a month and its the first group i’ve ever been in. Your points have hit my own concerns exactly, but as you go on to say the support of a good group is the flip side of that coin. I am surprised at how much I’m enjoying being with people who are as keen on writing as I am. It’s so comforting when others share your concerns.

  76. I don’t think my novel, Book of Mercy, would be published today without my critique group. They kept me honest, picked me up when I stumbled, dusted me off, and thrust me back into my manuscript. They were my eyes on the whole path when I was busy studying each individual stone. Most of all, they lit my fire. Thanks, group.

    1. Good critique groups are worth their weight in gold, for sure. Thanks for commenting and I am so happy for your success!

  77. I totally agree on the problem of perspective in chapter-by-chapter critique groups. I’m just starting my first-ever in-person critique group, and I was really looking forward to the new approach to the traditional group, but I don’t think I see it in your posts from that week. Am I missing something?


    1. LOL…nope. I just forgot to post it. Thanks for the reminder. Look for it Monday….squirrel!

  78. Hello again. Reminder, I’m late to the party! The critique group, to me, is a great conundrum. If you’ve got all your chakras balanced, and the perspective of the Dalai Lama, you’ll probably land a good one. That is a skillful landing. Haven’t nailed it yet! A bad group is just the devil. And a good one? How to find it?

  79. My online critique group just had its first in-person meeting today. It was amazing. Very honest, open, and productive. I can’t say that about every group I’ve ever been in. It really depends on the mix of people and where you are in your life of writing.

  80. “Can critique groups do more harm than good?”

    If the rest of your group worships at the altar of endless re-writes & traditional publishing, and you become a pariah the moment you finish your novel and self-publish it…

    • Zingo on October 1, 2012 at 4:46 pm
    • Reply

    If you have a good group (=serious people who are living up to the commitment, trying to help one another, and willing to learn), you can solve most of these problems. For ex: if you want advice on structure, bring in a list of your plot points and GMCs. Tell the story of your novel and ask members to look for weak spots.

    I’ve been in several groups and I’ve done individual critique exchanges with many people over the past decade. I’ve also done a lot of collaborative written projects in my day job. Every problem I’ve seen in critique groups came from one of four places:

    (1) The group contained someone who was unable to tolerate other members’ successes.

    (2) Group members were unable to meet their commitments and also unable to address that in a responsible way (ie ask for a leave of absence when their lives are falling apart and they can’t get their critiques in on time). A subtype of this: people who will join a critique group but are just too busy with their work and family lives to meet the commitment.

    (3) People who find even gentle feedback too threatening. These people will either get angry or hurt; both responses are problematic.

    (4) Of the roughly 50 or so people I’ve critiqued with over the past decade, I did encounter one individual who just couldn’t critique. She didn’t understand genre and couldn’t produce useful suggestions, and she didn’t realize how off-point her comments were. (Interestingly, she is also the only person I’ve ever met who chose to clip her toenails during group!)

    My advice: start your own group, announce that you are in charge of the membership, and vet each applicant carefully. It is really hard to kick people out once they’re in the group. (I’m still dealing with the toenail clipper!)

    Good luck. There are tons of good writers & responsible critiquers out there. May we all find each other. 🙂

  81. Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon on a daily basis.
    It’s always helpful to read articles from other authors and practice a little something from their

    1. They can get us in a habit of perfectionism.

      The world does not reward perfect novels, it rewards finished novels. I still run into writers that have been working on “perfecting” the same novel for the past ten years. As professionals, we need to learn to LET GO. Either the project was a learning curve and it needs to be scrapped and parted out, or it needs to be handed a lunch box and sent off to play with the big novels via query. Scrap it, part it, or shop it but MOVE ON.

      Yes, I know NY publishes novels that have typos and grammar errors. But when writers are under contract, they don’t have 6-10 years to ensure that their manuscript doesn’t have a single misplaced comma. In fact, I would be so bold as to posit that readers don’t generally get to the end of a novel and declare, “Wow! That was riveting. Not one single dangling participle in the entire book!”

      There are writers I know who have been working on the same book for 4,5 even SIX years. I see them at conferences dying to land an agent and get that three-book deal. WHY? New York isn’t going to give them another 12-18 YEARS to turn in manuscripts. The hard reality is that, if we hope to make a living at this writing thing, we need to learn to write solid and we need to learn to finish…quickly.

      THAT is my big issue with spending too much time with any writer’s group. Dotting the i’s. Crossing the ‘T’s’ . Every duck in its place. In the meantime, there are books on the market that make a person wonder how much READING the novelist has done, never mind WRITING!

      I learned how to work a computer by taking an ADULT Ed class, but the instructor we had was a …hoverer. She TALKED about how mistakes would be made and that’s life, but in every class, she would circle the desks and over-see what students were doing and she got anxious or testy about stuff that she didn’t specifically instruct. SHE was a PERFECTIONIST and it drove me buggy. The more she hovered, looking for mistakes, the more likely she would be to find mistakes, because students were so anxious about making mistakes that they made more! Sounds odd, but it’s true.

      All things in moderation. Getting feedback from legit sources is good, but when a wanna-be writer gets TOO dependent on advice, there is no….natural flow from the writer’s perspective. It would come out reading…wooden, grammatically correct , like a writer’s manual written by the same company that writes HOW TO books on plumbing and computer installation.

      At the end of the day, I’m going to write as I am. Spill my guts and then clean up the mess later. 🙂

    • darkocean on January 12, 2015 at 12:19 am
    • Reply

    While I’m very happy to have found, the fact is that most of the people on there are unpublished the same as me. Sometimes, a critique from one of them tends to be, well useless. This is even after I tell them what my storys pov narrative voice is in 9Thir person limited – first person) And they still will try and get me to change to past tense. Past tense has it’s place, but more oten then not they try and get me to change it to past tense (instead of showing they try to get me to tell. DOH.)

    Most of the time the critique sites cridics are greatly helpful, but I have to read everything carefully as like you’ve said above they don’t take the rest of the book into their critique, wanting explanations and answers, to areas that I’m making suspenseful; Well trying to lol. So those things are something to watch out for, along with when you get a critic that decides they want to re-write your book for you. I find that rude, thankfully that doesn’t happen all that often.

    I love it when a critic uses a writing term I don’t know and that sets me off into goggle to research it. Even with that I am careful not to go overboard like I did with transition words and phrases. Oops. All the stuff i’ve learned I think, can’t be applied worth s*hit if I don’t pay attention to my gut feeling on if I should use it in that sentience, paragraph or chapter.

    Thats what bugs me the most about cridics is they are so focused on the technical issues that they are unable to ‘feel’ a story. That makes me wonder if they are doing this to their own works? And that I believe is what writers need to keep in mind when getting help from cridics.

    Thank you for making this blog and this posting it’s nice to know other people fell the same way about this.

    • E.K. on October 14, 2015 at 5:28 pm
    • Reply

    I had my first critique this week. I found a group, went a few times to gauge the writers and their input, and read this week for the first time. I left puzzled. I’m not above criticism; I went because I wanted it. However, most of the comments were directed to parts of the piece that were missing precisely because I only read an excerpt. Comments like, “I need to know who this person is, I need to know where they came from, I need to know why we are in this setting, I need to know the location (meaning, which US city are we in!), when was this house built, are there biking trails nearby, Try putting a preposition here…” and the list of ridiculous comments rolled on. I’m the new kid so I smiled and thanked everyone, and there were a few good comments that I hope to use to improve my prose, but I really will have to take them all with a grain of salt.

    What really resonated in this was post was the fear I have of turning a decent book into a mess because I am critiquing it in1000 word excerpts. Also, that I find it near impossible to critique anyone else because I need to read it on a page – not listen to it. It makes me wonder if others in the group have this problem as well. I think this is a fine staring point, but I will continue to look around for other options.

  82. Dear Ms. Lamb, Thanks for your interesting blog on critique groups. I’m planning to add a link to it in the Carteret Writers newsletter, “The Write Stuff.” We are located in eastern North Carolina. You are welcome to check us out at if you email me through my blog, I’ll send you a copy of the newsletter, but don’t think I can publish it on your blog. Sarah Maury Swan, author of “Terror’s Identity.” http:://

  83. I’m the kind of person who prefers beta-readers and editors to work with me. I think critique groups are a great resource, though.

    • M on January 23, 2023 at 6:17 pm
    • Reply

    online critique groups are terrible, they either only read the first chapter, (then you get a bunch of other people reading just the first chapter.) and give lots of great critiques, yay. And you revise it work harder and learn. they critique the first chapter again and point out more flaws, leaning more on opinion then before as there’s less errors. Okay fine I’ll listen. Revised again. and it revised to death. The same problem can happen in writing platforms but worse. Group think is a huge problem on sites like Wattpad where if you get one harsh critique then you’re bound to get more, even if you’ve already fix everything that they pointed out, and the critic said it’s great now. Now the more part. Lazy fake critiques will follow and simply change the old critique comments into how they would word it without even reading the chapter or checking the date of the old critique. (One a person mirrored was several years old.)

    So I say this: critique groups are the best thing for new writers, but the moment you see any of the above happen, it’s time to jump out of the nest and go on your own they can’t help you any more. Also remember to take a look at their writing before asking for a critique… trust what you know you can spot mistakes after correcting your own for so long.

    It makes me really sad because I want feedback but if what I get is along the lines of ‘deep pov is passive’ or outlines bad they kill creativity when it’s not i’m going to star a war! (Not really, my idea of war is to push myself to write faster and finish this book. I would have dumped it ages ago but that ‘muse’ says not to and I trust it. Lol. I’m almost finished so that’s good.

    Please write more articles like this the reality check is needed.

    A quote from an article that really shook me, and helped me wake up a bit. I have it saved as a file.

    “Also, logic dictates that if your novel plot lines are a series of circumstances, reversals, and events that tie together (like “Harry Potter”?), it only makes sense that you better know how point A gets to point M before you will know how point M gets to point Z.

    Consider, do screenplay writers or playwrights just begin writing without planning? Of course not. So why should the novel be different? And we’re not talking about Beckett or Joycean flights of fancy, we’re talking about the vast bulk of commercial novels, whether they be upmarket or genre.

    I”m in a workshop and this came up today. Of course, the least experienced writer argued for not outlining.”

    I don’t post my email online if I can help it the spam is so annoying, here: vaporlight AT aol DOT com

  1. […] lovely and useful Kristen Lamb wrote a post today about critique groups that made my butterflies flutter just a wee bit more than usual. It […]

  2. […] So how do you listen to the good suggestions and sift out the bad? — Check out Kristen Lamb’s article “Can Critique Groups Do More Harm Than Good?” […]

  3. […] Also check out Kristen Lamb’s Can Critique Groups Do More Harm Than Good? Share […]

  4. […] To further polish your writing, Rachel Larow shows how subplots can lift a story; the English Club supplies a cheat sheet on using the subjunctive tense; Leigh Anne Jasheway explains how to improve your writing by thinking like a comedy writer; and Kristin Lamb asks: Can critique groups do more harm than good? […]

  5. […] Lamb, “Can Critique Groups Do More Harm than Good?,” Kristen Lamb’s Blog, posted 16 January 2012 ( : […]

  6. […] Kristen Lamb ponders the benefits and risks of a critique group in “Can Critique Groups Do More Harm Than Good?“ […]

  7. […] Can critique groups do more harm than good? There are more potential problems than just the “wreckers” described above at a critique group. […]

  8. […] Kristen Lamb asks “Can Critique Groups Cause More Harm Than Good?” […]

  9. […] post the second part of the discussion. ::head desk:: Anyway, in Part One, I posited the question: Can a critique group do more harm than good? In my opinion? YES. Traditional critique groups can have severe limitations, and, if a writer […]

  10. […] have been some great posts about critique groups in recent weeks. Kristen Lamb points out the good and bad of participation and offers an alternative kind of feedback that she calls the “concept critique”. Juli […]

  11. general commentary…

    […]Can Critique Groups Do More Harm than Good? « Kristen Lamb's Blog[…]…

  12. […] Step 3: Ask everyone you know to critique your work for you. Yes? Maybe. Your readers will catch some things, but not everything. I wrote about the value of critique groups in a previous blog post, but there are also pitfalls to relying on them for real editing. Author and social media expert Kristen Lamb has this perspective: “Critique groups are WONDERFUL. I don’t know what I’d do without mine. But, we are wise to be aware of the trouble spots so that we can get the most out of this fantastic resource.” She points out the traditional critique groups lack perspective, are notorious for “books by committee,” and offer a false sense of security, among other things. Read more of her thoughts here. […]

  13. […] Can Critique Groups Do More Harm than Good? ~ Kristen Lamb […]

  14. […] Full article found at […]

  15. […] might also like: Critique groups or “I love (hate) your book” by Maddie Davidson Can Critique Groups Do More Harm Than Good? by Kristin […]

  16. […] is or how one is created, you need to get over to writer Kristen Lamb’s website and read her post on writing groups. It’s painful, because sometimes Truth is […]

  17. […] the second blog post, ‘Can critique groups do more harm than good?’, Kristen Lamb covers a series of points about how writing groups can actually hurt a story. […]

  18. […] said, there can be a downside to over-reliance on critique groups. I’ll link to this post by Kristen Lamb, who explains it all much better than I […]

  19. […] involved in a critique group. And because I try to be balanced in my view, here is an article from Kristen Lamb that might make you more aware of some of the […]

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