This morning I met with my critique group. Our posse is small – only four members. I think for as long as I’ve been in the group the member list topped off at six. Over the years, members have moved away or given up writing, sometimes to be replaced in the group by someone new. I even left for a while, but I missed the group too much. Their critical eyes on my manuscript and their overall support are so valuable to me.
Developing and maintaining a good critique group is like developing and maintaining any other relationship. I think three of the main things you need are chemistry, community, and commitment.
- Chemistry: We click. We are different people with different skills and from different backgrounds, but we click. We get along well. We respect each other.
- Community: The group gives us all a sense of belonging. I love spending time with people who love reading and writing. If I’m in a grumble bunny mood, one where I’m rethinking this whole idea of being a writer and ruing the day the keyboard was invented. I can share that with them. They will raise my spirits with encouragement or get me moving with a kick in the pants. (They know what is needed at any particular time.) If I am celebrating something wonderful, they are celebrating beside me. We are supportive, and respectful, and kind to each other.
- Commitment: As much as I enjoy the meetings, there are days when I don’t want to get in my car and drive there. I go anyway. I’ve made a commitment to the group. There are times when one of us just can’t make it – we have lives outside of the group too. We all try to make each meeting though, and because of that we all understand when someone simply can’t be there with us.
Some critique groups find the level of experience or genre or age group to be most important. I get that outlook, but in our group there is variety. Betsy, Wendy, and I have worked together for over twelve years. Lynda is fairly new to the group. Wendy is multi-published in middle grade and YA literature. She has a new series of chapter books co-written with her husband. She is a NY Times best-selling author. I’m multi-published in the school and library market and have my first YA novel coming out in the spring. Betsy writes primarily middle grade literature, but hasn’t had a book published yet. Lynda is primarily a picture book writer and has not had a book published yet. We are all working on different kinds of projects at different stages of development. Each of us brings a different set of skills and a different perspective to the table – and it works for us.
What makes your critique group work? What do you think is most important in building a strong group?