My primary critique group is kidlit-only and everyone in it is fabulous. But since they are kidlit-only, I couldn’t bring them the short stories I increasingly write for adults. Especially since some of those stories are horror. Picture books don’t exactly go along with, um, carnage. (Unless the picture book is “I Want My Hat Back,” but that’s probably an exception.)
So I went looking for a secondary critique group for my short stories/novellas/whatever else I decide to write for adults. Finding a group can be the easiest and the hardest thing to do. Because while there are writers’ groups, both in-person and online, that advertise for new members, and there are plenty of places around social media where you can link up with potential critique partners, you don’t want just any group. You want the group that makes the most sense for you.
First of all, there’s a difference between support groups and critique groups. With a support group, you can get together and vent. You can talk about how tough the industry is. You can lift each other up, help each other to keep pursuing their creative dreams. Support groups are good for the soul and your sanity. (I have one of these groups, too! I recommend them.) But they don’t help you improve your writing.
Critique groups are specifically focused on the craft. You meet to read and discuss each other’s work, whether that’s a complete story, an excerpt of a longer work, or a full novel. There are plenty of guidelines out there for how to do this professionally—in other words, how to give useful feedback without being a jerk. This post has some good suggestions, for instance.
My point isn’t so much the mechanics of critiquing, though. It’s making sure you and the group are aligned. Are you all looking to get published? Are you all writing in the same, similar, or complementary genres? How much time are you able to devote to writing and revising each month? Can you all commit to meeting and providing feedback regularly? Will each member of the group get equal time to share their work?
Here are some of the reasons I’ve seen critique groups fall apart. A member never actually finishes any manuscript—they keep rewriting chapter one over and over. One prolific member insists on their work being read constantly, ignoring the needs of other members, until they entirely overtake the group. Members are perpetually too busy to commit to regular meetings or to write anything new. Members are either hostile to constructive criticism or incapable of giving constructive criticism. You need structure, you need consistency, you need everyone working toward the same goal—even if they’re each doing so in their own way.
When you’re looking for a group, audition it. Attend a few meetings, try to get a sense of what the other members are like. Make sure their level of commitment is similar to yours. They’ll likely be evaluating you as well. The right fit benefits everyone.
As for me, I found a new group through Uncharted magazine, which organized a digital critique group meetup. They’ve only done this once so far, but maybe they’ll do a round two at some point? Otherwise, if you’re in need of a critique group, check the official sites of writers’ organizations and poke around social media. You’re bound to find something. Good luck and keep writing.