It is daunting joining a group of strangers and sharing your work. If you are an introvert writer like I am, it is completely terrifying, and the worst part is that it could end up being all for nothing. Not all crit groups are good crit groups. Not all crit groups are the right fit.
Fortunately you can get a pretty decent fix on whether you got a good group for you withing the first two or three sessions and avoid wasting your time and energy on a group that is not going to help you or your writing.
Here are five things to look for:
1. They welcome new members
By welcome I don’t just mean they allow them to sit in, I mean they are open, friendly and willing to allow new members to submit their work. Too often established groups will develop a dynamic of exclusion. It’s not intentional, but it also is nothing you need to waste your time with. If you join a group that treats you like an intruder, don’t come back.
2. They are familiar with your kind of writing
You can be part of the greatest crit group ever, but if you are the only romance novelist in a group of journalists, you won’t get the most out of the group.
3. They are familiar with your genre
Even if the whole group consists of fiction writers, it is important that at least a few members understand the genre you write in. Style and technique can change drastically between genres and the best horror novel might be hard for someone who focuses exclusively on historical fiction to understand or critique.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have a very productive group even if a few people don’t get your genre, but you need somebody to get your genre or you will end up needlessly feeling bad about your work.
4. They are focused on improvement
This seems obvious right? Except it’s not so much. Giving and receiving constructive criticism is actually really really hard. In order to spare feelings some writing groups fall into a pattern of praise. It’s lovely to have your work praised and to give it to others, but the reason you are there isn’t to stroke each others egos. It is to get better. If no one ever has any solid advice for improvement, you are not doing yourself any favors sticking around.
5. They look for the good
On the other side of the coin, sometimes crit groups can become too harsh. Especially in a group where the writers are ultra competitive or have been doing this kind of work for a while. A crit group should always look for the good in a piece, no matter what level of writing is presented. This isn’t just to be nice, a writer needs to know where their strengths lie in order to improve their work.
6. The writers in the group are of all different levels of experience
You may think you want to work with the people who have been doing this the longest. Or people who are of the same writing level as you. You are wrong. Reviewing the work of someone who is just starting out can give you a fresh perspective and allow you to clearly see your own writing flaws in their work. It also gives you the opportunity to impart your knowledge to help them improve, which, believe it or not, can lead to huge progress in your own work.
On the other hand, working with much more experienced writers sets a standard to work toward and also helps develop a discernment in you that will allow you to find weaker points in even the strongest writing. And writers on all levels will have unique perspectives to give your work.
Do you belong to a writing crit group? What are some things you have found to be an important part of the dynamic?