Does Your Critique Group Coddle or Mentor?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Is your critique group helping you become a better writer or just patting you on the back? 

Each of us has to decide what we want from a critique group but attending one that doesn't allow negative comments, only positives, seems counter-productive. 

If you want folks to love your manuscript, call your relatives. 

If you want to grow in your craft, find writers who you admire and ask them for a "brutal" analysis of your work. Yes, I did say "brutal." 

Perhaps it will help if I define a few things. Let me start with some definitions from Webster's New World Dictionary:  

Critique: a critical analysis or evaluation of a subject, situation, literary work, etc. 

Criticize: to analyze and judge as a critic. 

Criticism: the act of making judgements; analysis of qualities and evaluation of comparative worth; esp. the critical consideration and judgement of literary or artistic work.  

Brutal: plain and direct although distressing in effect. I would add, honest, painfully honest to this definition. 

Nowhere in the definitions did you find the word, coddle or pat-on-the back or ego stroking. That's not to say we don't need to hear what inspired or tickled someones funny bone or delighted one of our critique partners. Of course we do. Analyzing and evaluating do have a positive side. 

It may just be the delivery of the negative aspects of the above words that get us off track; the act of disapproval, censure, finding fault. Rare is the person who can deliver a negative comment in a positive way, but that's what we as writers need. 

                   IN POSITIVE WAYS! 

We need to know where the holes are, what doesn't make sense, when we've used the same word too many times, when were telling not showing, when point-of-view changes mid-stream, when we've used too many adjectives, when the story doesn't flow, when the character gets off track, when situations don't advance the story. And we need examples for clarification of suggestions. 

Positive comments alone cannot address these needs. Only an honest, straight-forward, pick-it-apart analysis and discussion can. 

Writers should welcome honest, brutal critiques with open arms. I'd be lying if I said it wouldn't hurt or make you stop writing for a day or two. It might. But in the long run, you'll be able to discern the things that need changing and the things you want to keep the same and you'll see your manuscript improve.   

I am in a brutal critique group and I love it. Thanks to my SOUP SISTERS, I've eliminated whole chapters because, "although written well, it didn't advance the story." I've changed titles and character actions because, "your character wouldn't do that, that way." There were days I've had to put the critique aside until I could take the emotion out of it and look at it intellectually for the gems, the suggestions that would make my story better. 

Here are some suggestions for making your critique group critique: 

1. Find writers you admire. 
2. Brainstorm critique goals and expectations.
3. Study the Craft of writing: 
4. For large meeting size critique groups: Make a poster of the Key Components of a Good Story; maybe 4 points to look for in each story. and use this as a guide for each critique.  
     a.What is the story arc?
     b. Too many adjectives?
     c. Over use of a word?
     d. Does the story flow? 
     e. Does the child solve the problem? 
     f.  Does the child fail a couple of times before solving the problem? 
     g. Is each failure worse than the last? 
5. Give suggestions for improvement.

If your critique group loves everything you write, then maybe it's not the group for you. Even great writers get edited before publication. Keep in mind that the harder your critique group is on the elements in your manuscript now, the easier it will be when the publication edits come through. It might even make the difference between a rejection and an acceptance.  

A good critique group can make your manuscript shine and make you a better writer. 

How does your critique group stack up? 


Congratulations to Carol Baldwin for winning a copy of If I Were A Table, for commenting on my last blog. 

For publications by Sandra Warren visit or 



Gretchen Griffith said...

Brutal! That works for me. It's what I need, but with that occasional pat on the back. Great post, Sandra.

Sandra Warren said...

Thanks Gretchen. You know I love your "brutal" remarks.


Carol Baldwin said...

And thanks for the book, Sandra. Looks like you and I have the same feeling about being critiqued. In fact, I think I want you on my team of beta readers-- you would be looking out for my best interest!

Sandra Warren said...

Carol, Thanks for your comment.

When I was invited to sit in on what became my critique group, I was warned that they were BRUTAL, I was thrilled! I'd been edited enough to know that I wanted/needed to know the weak spots, all of them, no matter how much it hurt.And as you know, it does hurt sometimes.

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Hi! I’m Sandra Warren, a writer with very eclectic writing tastes. I’ve been fortunate to have publications in multiple genres including children’s, gifted education, parenting, how to, poetry, journal, educational activity guides and biography as well as audio and video production. I'm a city gal recently transplanted to the mountains of NC where glorious mountain vistas inspire latest renderings.

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