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Friday, January 25, 2013

Do I Need to be in a Writers Group or have a Critique Partner?

Only if you want your writing to improve! 

Writing for publication is an endeavor built on forging relationships. And those relationships can ultimately determine your success or failure in the writing industry. Here’s a list of those relationships.
  • Between you and other writers.
  • Between you and the reader.
  • Between the reader and the subject or characters.
  • Between you and the editor.
  • Between you and your agent.

I listed the relationship between writers first, because surprisingly, it’s often the most vital in your writing life. 

The actual act of putting words on paper is a solitary act and because of that it’s easy to lose perspective. Writing in a vacuum can give us a false sense of whether or not we’re effective in our endeavor. We either wind up thinking we’re a genius or sink into the depths of despair because we can’t string two coherent sentences together. Rarely is either perspective accurate.

We need others in our profession to give us feedback, keep us grounded and provide encouragement. You may be tempted, like I was at first, to insert friends and family into this role. Unless they’re also writers this dynamic just doesn’t work. They’ll unwittingly encourage you when you need a swift kick in the pants and administer the kick in the pants when you need encouragement.

That’s where a writers group, critique group or critique partner will help. But you have to be careful—some critique and writers groups can be toxic. I’ve visited some groups where the purpose appears to be to build up the one delivering the critique by tearing down the hapless author. You want to avoid these groups at all cost.

Here’s a list of what to look for in a group or a partner:
  • An encouraging atmosphere –not all sweetness and light—nobody improves on false compliments. But I’ve almost never found a manuscript that didn’t have some redeeming quality.
  • A mutually beneficial relationship. You should both bring something valuable if it’s a partnership—you may excel at writing dialogue and your partner is a whiz at description.
  • A hunger to improve. If it’s a group there should be a movement toward growth in the majority of members. Even if you’re all beginners, if you’re all reading writing books and attending classes you’ll be able to grow and learn together.
  • A timekeeper. If someone’s not willing to keep track of the time not everyone will get a chance to be critiqued. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it! 

Now you know what to look for, where do you find these people?
  • In this day and time, a lot of information about others looking for a critique group or partner can be found online, from groups you may already be a part of.
  • Local bookstores often have lists of writing groups that meet in the area.
  • Libraries usually have this information as well.
  • Writing conferences and workshops are a good place to meet like-minded individuals. I met my critique partner at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers conference—and we live less than two miles apart. 

Once you’ve found someone you think might work, propose a short trial period. I recommend a three to six month trial. Then take some time to evaluate how the relationship is working. This takes the pressure off if it’s not a good fit.

So now here’s your chance—what experiences have you had with writing groups and partnerships?

Edie Melson is a freelance writer and editor with years of experience in the publishing industry. She’s a prolific writer, and has a popular writing blog, The Write Conversation. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, as well as a popular faculty member at numerous others. She’s also the social media columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and social media coach for My Book Therapy. Connect with her through Twitter andFacebook.


  1. I agree 100%. Love my writing group. Couldn't produce anything good without their feedback :)

  2. I couldn't agree more! I adore by Cps (Critique partners). We're BFFs and are tough on each other. But we make each other's work the best it can be. :)

  3. Lori and Ane, I couldn't make it without my CP or critique group either! Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Edie,
    Thanks for the great post.
    Being a part of the South-Central Kansas ACFW Chapter has been so important to me. The chapter meets in Wichita, and I drive an hour to get there. And I wish we met more often.
    I'm very much looking forward to seeing our chapter develop a more intentionally focused critique time at our meetings, or atleast begin the process at the meeting at have people email thoughts to each other.
    Anyway, I can't imagine where I'd be on my writing journey without the relationships formed through the chapter and through writer's confrences.
    Thanks again for the post.

  5. Thanks, Edie!! This is very helpful - and it's now Bookmarked for further consideration. It's been a "take a step back" time for me, but now it's time to get back in the swing of things.

  6. Thanks Edie! I think that more than a writer, I am a re-writer. I can't tell you how many good ideas became great ideas thanks to the input of other writers.


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