Writer’s Toolbox: Critique Groups

In my third year at university I took a writing critique class. We each submitted a chapter or short story on a rotating basis and were responsible for critiquing the weekly submissions. I have never learned as much — or been as productive — as I was with a bi-weekly deadline and the expectations of my peers looming over me. The feedback made me a better writer and gave me big-time motivation that rolled over week to week.

Giving and receiving critique might be nail-biting at first, but it’s a skill that’s worth learning!

After I graduated and found a desk job, my productivity fizzled. Almost ten years later, I randomly crossed paths via Facebook with a writing group setting up shop near my house. In the first couple of months participating I struggled to get a chapter done every month. I would often be writing furiously the night before the deadline (or still writing the day after the deadline had passed…). As time went on and I continued to write one chapter a month — shocker here — it got easier!  

To that end, I would encourage every writer to find a group of like minded folx who will help motivate them to write. There are a lot of options depending on your comfort level, from an individual critique partner to face-to-face groups of various sizes.

You’ve got options

  • Critique partner: I found my critique partner through a large discord server for writers. We’re interested in similar genres and have complimentary writing styles. I helped her revise a book jacket and we worked well together. When she put out a call asking for a critique partner, I jumped at the chance! This kind of connection is fantastic because we’ve built a lot of trust. I know she’ll enjoy and appreciate my writing, and still point out the weaknesses. I get a ton of encouragement from my critique partner and find her feedback very motivational. This is more of a developmental partnership, and the drawback is that one person can only provide a limited amount of perspective and expertise.
  • Online group: whether through a social app like Facebook or a forum like Discord, there are many places to find other writers! This kind of group is great for when you have questions, need to brainstorm or need to crowdsource some encouragement, but it’s not a critique platform. You generally won’t be able to develop the same level of personal relationships in a larger group, but it is a great place to meet people if you’re looking for beta readers or a critique partner!
  • Face-to-face group: This is the option I want you to consider! The benefits cannot be understated. You get the opinions, perspectives and expertise of multiple writers at once, the encouragement of people on the same journey as you, and the benefits of a face-to-face connection. Why does it matter that it’s face to face? It is so so easy to mire yourself in your own feelings when receiving feedback online. If there isn’t trust already built, it can be hard to take that feedback to heart without being offended. This is a skill. It’s a muscle you build like any muscle, by tearing it and then letting it heal (with pain, lots of pain). Having feedback delivered in person can make you more receptive to it. Overtime, you’ll build trust with your group and begin to see the feedback make a difference in the reactions you’re getting. That’s a great feeling.

If you’re in Alberta you can check out the list of writers critique groups on the Writers Guild of Alberta site, that’s where I found the Discord server for Yeg Writes. Though I don’t meet in person with that group, it’s a fantastic community of writers, readers and editors cheering each other on. If you live elsewhere, research your local writers guild or ask a local bookstore if they know of any active writers groups. There’s a wealth of active Discord servers to check out as well.

Questions? I’m currently working on a post with tips and best practices for giving and receiving critique! Help me out by asking in the comments below. 👇

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