Critique Groups: Why They Might Be Scary Yet Necessary
Critique groups and critique partners. These words and titles might sound daunting to some, exciting to others, and downright discouraging to many. However, I’ve come to believe they are a necessary facet to life as a writer. If the words conjure negative feelings, then change the title but keep the job. Critique partners and groups—sometimes called writing groups and less often referred to as beta readers*—are an important lifeline to help writers with countless aspects of writing. Here’s my quick take on the necessity of critique groups:
First, I want to make it clear that I’ve had my own negative experiences with critique groups, and thus found it difficult to take criticism. I didn’t have a great experience in my college writing classes, and those memories colored my interactions with my own writing and fellow writers for years. It wasn’t until I joined my current group in 2014 that I finally found a comfortable space to handle criticism, which greatly improved my writing.
Btw, I joined my group via my lifelong friend, and published author, Sarah Alva who introduced me to some of the best friends and writers I will ever know. Trust me when I say there are some future bestsellers in this group ;-)
In addition to creating a safe space for all of us to grow, learn, and work on our craft, we are constantly growing and learning outside of our group and sharing with each other. My group lives in Salt Lake City, UT, and I video-call in (our submissions are done through Google Drive to make critiques easier). Due to this distance, the rest of the group often attends multiple writing conferences throughout the year, but they are so gracious to share their experiences and knowledge with the rest of us, namely me.
Another quick side note: SLC seems to be this insane haven for writers. They have regular conferences, classes, and get-togethers with all types of writers, editors, and publishers. I’ve been to LTUE twice and loved every minute of it.
One of our other great strengths, and one of the most important in my humble opinion, is the great diversity of writing, talents, and skills between us. We all have very different backgrounds that can inform on our writing. For example, one member has worked in the medical field, so the rest of us ask her questions about medical scenes in our stories. Also, all of us write in separate genres: YA dystopian (me!), contemporary romance (Sarah), horror (Miranda), middle grade (Julie), historical fiction (Emily), and thriller/romance (Stacy). I feel like this might be a point of argument from some, but I believe having a group filled with different genre writers is one of the biggest boons to any critique group.
The argument against multiple genre writers in critique groups goes something like “how can you write to your genre when you don’t have other people knowledgeable in that genre as soundboards?” While I understand this argument, I and my group have discussed why this can be a very limiting setup. I can’t tell you how many ideas I personally have received from every single one of the women in my group that has bettered my writing and my story.
In the end, all stories deal with universal issues. What changes is the setting and the writing. Just because Stacy writes thrillers doesn’t mean she can’t give me a great idea to amp up an aspect of my story. Just because I write dystopian doesn’t mean I can’t offer a perspective on a contemporary romance. Our differences are the best parts of our critique group, and I encourage everyone to find their people, or their group, made up of whoever is going to help you become a better version of yourself and a better writer.
*I believe many beta readers qualify as critique partners but not all. If someone is just an avid reader, then they may be able to give a writer some basic feedback on what they’ve read; i.e. “I liked that the character made this decision,” or “I couldn’t visualize this setting very well.” If a beta reader can go deeper—”I believe the character should’ve chosen this path because it is more in line with X theme in the story,” or “consider adding some adjectives and structuring your sentences in X manner to better portray this setting”—then they qualify as a well-rounded beta reader and critique partner.