The Curse of the Soul-Sucking Critique Group

Last night's meeting of my long-time critique group, The Midwives, was so constructive, upbeat, and just plain fun that I can't help comparing it to some of my earlier critiquing experiences. Most writers agree that the right critique group is a joy, offering support during tough times, cheers during good times, and honest-but-supportive dialogue about perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of each member's work in progress.

But a lot of times, writers find themselves in less than helpful situations with those who hinder instead of help. For fear of hurting feelings, they stagger along with these emotionally-draining groups for far too long.

Here are some signs that it's time to split the sheets with your current critique partner/group.

  • You dread going and look for excuses to avoid it. Others do the same, so attendance is sporadic and ever-changing.
  • An individual's positive news is greeted with stony, resentful-looking silence or attributed to dumb luck/pandering to the marketplace, etc.
  • One or more dominating individuals not only share their opinions of the work, but try to force absolute obedience by the piece's author.
  • A toxic member gleefully jumps on minor punctuation points or adherence to trivial "rules" or genre conventions or engages in the "revenge hack n' slash" after you have pointed out a problem in his/her own work.
  • Other group members make disparaging remarks about the genre/sub-genre that you write. (It's wonderful to have didn't critique partners writing in different genres as long as everyone agrees that good writing is good writing.)
  • No one appears to be actively, seriously pursuing publication. Instead, there's a pervasive, defeatist attitude about the chances for "real talent" to break into the industry.

If any of these conditions exist in your critique group, you may want to have a frank talk with others involved, or you may just want to cut your losses and move on, or even work on your own. Thanks to the Internet, your next, great critique group may be only a mouse-click away.


Joni Rodgers said…
Joining The Midwives made a major difference in my writing life this year. I've never been a "joiner" by nature, so it was a daunting thing for me to come to that first meeting and present my work. The grilling I got from the group was incredibly valuable and didn't hurt a bit.

Candor is queen. Egos are left at the door. We always end with something sweet. And I'm not just talking about the cheesecake.
It's always a dangerous move to add a new member to a long-established group. Trust takes time to build, and inadvertently adding a toxic harpy is a real risk. But I'm *so* glad we invited you. You've added a terrific, new dimension to an already-great group.

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