Get A Group: Critique Partners Make a Difference

Guest post
by Darlene Deluca

They may push you. They may make you rewrite. And rewrite some more. They might ask you tough questions like, “what’s the point of this scene?” They may be brutally honest. You might not like them very much sometimes.

But, relax, they’re making you a better writer, and your book a better product.

They’re called critique partners. And you need them. Why? Because they’ll tell you if something doesn’t make sense, if you need to chop twenty-five pages of backstory, or if you’ve used the word “just” fifty times in one chapter.

Good critique partners can be hard to find, but it’s worth the effort. I had a couple of false starts with groups or individuals reading my work. It was hard to get something going consistently. But I kept searching, and finally found two other writers who I thought I could work with. We met. We talked. We read. We clicked.

And it made a big difference for all three of us. Approximately a year after we created our little group, we each finished and published our first book!

Why did this one finally work? I have a few theories. First, we all write contemporary romance. One writes more fun and lighthearted material, a little racier than mine. One writes romantic mystery/suspense, but none of us write something that the others have absolutely no interest in. For instance, I would have a really hard time with a critique partner who writes paranormal. It just doesn’t interest me, so I’d have trouble reading and re-reading and re-reading. Besides, how much help can I be if I don’t get it?

Second, we were on an even playing field. As we got to know each other and the others’ work, it was obvious that we were at similar levels in our skills, stage of writing career and commitment to publishing. It wouldn’t have worked if two of us had nearly finished novels while one was struggling to get through chapter one. None of us had time to drag another along. We were all ready to move forward.

Additionally, we each bring a specific strength to the group, and that improves all of our writing. Janice is great at plotting, coming up with ideas for beefing up a sagging middle or stuck storyline. Michelle is really good at catching inconsistencies. Weren’t his eyes green in the chapter before? I’m more of an eagle-eye for spotting redundancies and over-used words. Yes, you really did say “little” five times in five paragraphs!

Of course, in order for it all to come together, we had to develop a comfort level, to trust each other with our work and ideas. No one wants to be attacked or embarrassed or give a lot of feedback but get little in return. We had to be sure we were compatible, to make sure we could be honest, and open. We started out by going for coffee, just talking. Then we read small amounts of each other’s work, and it blossomed from there.

In the last year, we’ve gone to workshops, and shared information. We’ve studied the craft of fiction writing and the ins and outs of self-publishing. And now, together, we maintain a website that promotes all three of us. It’s great because when one of us is crazy-busy, another can pick up the slack and keep up the site. We can cross-promote and share friends. Automatically, we introduce our own followers and readers to potential new books they might enjoy.

Sociologists will say that threesomes don’t often work. But for us, it does. Some people might like more opinions, more input. I’ve found that too many opinions can be more confusing than helpful. And too many group members can slow the process down. Sometimes, my partners will split opinions, and then I have to go with my gut. But sometimes, both of them will agree that something is working – or not. Then I can revise or move on with confidence. And that’s a great feeling.

Darlene has been a reader and writer since childhood. With a degree in journalism, she started her writing career as a newspaper reporter, and later moved into corporate communications. Now she’s writing women’s fiction and contemporary romance from her home in the Midwest, which she shares with her husband and two children. Darlene has self-published two books, Unexpected Legacy and Meetings of Chance. She enjoys writing stories about relationships – what brings people together or keeps them apart. And she likes a happy ending.Learn more about Darlene from her Amazon author page and her group’s website.

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13 thoughts on “Get A Group: Critique Partners Make a Difference”

  1. Quality trumps quantity. Three seems to be a magic number for you. I have three sources, all unknown to each other who give me feedback. I rely on them and know my writing is better for it.

  2. I am in total agreement with you. I was with a fabulous group of four for four years. We were originally five, but that was too many, and when one fell out we didn’t replace her. We each had a chance to read many pages, felt committed to produce and not let each other down, and were more than instrumental in helping each other fine hone our manuscripts. All of us have since published successfully. I loved my group and am looking to start another one, but will be very selective. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience.

  3. Great post, Darlene, and for me, right on the money. Having regular critique partners keeps me motivated and helps me improve my writing. We keep the bar high for each other. Though some weeks I may walk away grumbling, I know it’s for the good of the novel to lose that backstory or weak character or even ditch the whole thing for another angle. Thank you.

  4. Have you heard of the most famous critique group of all? They were called “The Inklings” and they included C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien. They met regularly in person for serious critiquing and they also met regularly at the local pub for good old drinking sessions and socialising.

    Critique groups are very very important. They stop you over-using adjectives and saying things like “very very” They perform a hundred other functions. I’ll tell you how I met mine. They are wonderful. They are becoming almost famous. Yesterday I heard them being discussed on national radio. They are “The Rogues.”

    I met the Rogues because all ten of us had signed up for a post graduate advanced fiction writing course at the Creative Hub here in Auckland, New Zealand. You had to have a novel in progress and an advanced level of education to get in to the course. I only squeaked in on my novel in progress and previous published background.

    For a year we met once per week in class. One of us was rather bossy about insisting we all go to the pub for a meal after each class, no matter how far we had to drive through the dark to get home afterwards (I had a 2 hour drive!) But it was the best thing we could have done. We got to know one another in a different way and soon became very close and trusting of one another.

    The course finished long ago but the Rogues have met once per month ever since. Two of us have moved far away, but both of those regularly skype in to meetings or come when they can. One even comes over from Australia to the odd meeting. Several of us have since published our books.

    We use the CRC method of critiquing which I’m sure you’ve all heard of:


  5. Your groups sounds very cool. So glad you made the effort to have those beers! I think the trust and camaraderie you build is the key!

  6. The problem I’ve found, and one for which I am earnestly seeking a solution, is this: members of the group tend to fall into three categories. First, the untalented or complete novice, who still likes the idea of writing more than they appreciate its required discipline. Then there’s the middling egotist, the writer who counters each criticism with an awkward explanation, missing entirely the rather obvious point that if you have to explain the scene, it is, by definition, a failed scene. Lastly, there is the intense workhorse, the guy who wants to improve in that most urgent of ways, who wants the intelligent and experienced commentary, who quits attending because the seriousness and self-aware objectivity of others just ain’t there. I’ve found that in the most benign of manifestations, the writing group devolves into more of a club than a bunch of artistically or intellectually aggressive writers. Has anyone had any luck in creating an admission standard that plays well? How about online, video conference meetings?

    1. George, the problem I had with groups like that was with people ripping off my work. I was shocked to receive a call from one of the group members one day, who proceeded to read part of his project to me which was nearly verbatim something I’d shared with the group in a previous meeting. I now NEVER share WIPs with anyone unless they’re directly involved in my projects.

      1. Oh, my! That’s pretty gutsy. The people who are directly involved with your work . . . are they critique partners?
        One more reason why getting to know potential partners and building trust is so important! Thanks for sharing!

    2. This is exactly why you have to find people who are at similar levels in their writing skills and commitment to publishing! I haven’t run across any conference or video that offers a standard method. For me, it was trial and error. And time. Takes a little time to build trust and figure out how to operate the group.

  7. I have had experience with groups, paid, and online critique swap groups. I think it’s important to try all of the different ways to find your preferred style. I found the group where we shared a limited amount of pages to be useful at first, and then it became a long process where one of the group members took the role of professor. I left that group and found a few writing friend who would read the whole work and give me great feedback for the revision stage.
    I also found an online group Ladies Who Critique and I’ve swapped a few critiques now with great results.

    1. That’s great! Glad to hear you’ve had success, especially with the online option. I’d think it would be harder to build trust in that situation. You really do have to shop around and see what works. Thanks for sharing!

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