Posted On February 29, 2012 by Print This Post

Keys to a Successful Critique Group by Nina Singer

If you’re a regular RU reader, you’ve heard Kelsey, Tracey and I talk about the wonders of good critique partners. Today, author Nina Jade Singer shares tips on what to consider when searching for a critique group.

Take it away, Nina!

In my previous life working as an employee for a large corporation, I took for granted what I now refer to as the ‘water cooler option.’ By that I mean the ability to run ideas by co-workers or to hop over to the next cubicle in search of brainstorming help. When I first started writing, it didn’t take long for me to figure out that I was one of those authors who would do well to find a critique partner or group.

Pursuing a writing career can be a solitary and sometimes lonely path, particularly for pre-published authors who don’t yet have the advantage of working with an editor. Finding the right critique group can be a creativity enhancing (and sanity saving) option.

I ultimately had the good fortune to land amongst other writers who helped me to become a much better one myself. But I’ve also heard plenty of horror stories. So what are some ways to ensure you’re in a group that works for you? In my own experience, I found there are some key factors to consider.

Take your time to find the right group or partner. Go to as many meetings and conferences as feasible. Join online groups. Get out there and talk to as many people who write as you can. You don’t necessarily have to find others in your particular genre. My critique group encompasses everything from women’s fiction to historical to paranormal. I firmly believe that this leads to insights and ideas we wouldn’t otherwise discover. So go on a recruiting mission. It’s worth your while to make the effort to search for the right mix of contributors. Hopefully you’ll be working with them for years to come.

Once established, find the method that works for your group. There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to evaluating each other’s material. But critique groups can vary as widely as authors themselves. I know some meet primarily to brainstorm together. Others read their pages out loud followed by a feedback session. Personally, I would not be comfortable with that particular approach. We send out in advance what we’ve written and go over it at our next get-together. Spend some time with your partners to figure out the way(s) that will best meet the needs of each of you.

All members must be mindful of their presentation when critiquing. An inherent danger is to tamper with one another’s voice. No one wants that to happen. Find the right balance of constructive feedback and reverence. Like any relationship, all parties must be feel validated and appreciated in order for the dynamic to be a successful one. It goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway: be respectful when sharing your opinion. Make sure to point out what works as well as the areas you feel could use some improvement.

Whether you’re fortunate enough to be in the same geographic area and can physically meet, or even if you’re gathering online, try to set a regular time. This will ensure a steady flow of progress and hopefully keep everyone on track with their current WIP. As with any other meeting, be conscious of the time. Though we don’t have an official agenda at our critiques, we know we’re going to spend several minutes chatting. We’ve all known each other for a while now and we like to take the time to catch up. We plan for it and schedule accordingly. Once we begin, we try to keep tangents to a minimum. We don’t always succeed. Writers have a tendency to ramble, after all. But we do make the effort.

Finally, spend some time getting to know one another as individuals. A certain level of comfort and familiarity will only serve to enrich your relationship as a group. I knew I’d found the right critique partners when I heard myself years ago saying that I’d consider my writing a success whether or not I ever published a book. It had brought such warm, supportive women into my life. I consider each one of them to be amongst my closest friends.

***

RU Crew, what are some of the ways your critique group has worked for you? One lucky commenter will receive Secrets of The Knight. Followers and commenter’s of the blog tour will go in the grand draw of an Amazon Gift Certificate of US$100.00!

Thank you to Nina for being with us today. Join us on Friday when editor Gina Bernal will be here for another installment of our line editing series. You won’t want to miss it!

 

BIO: I’ve always loved stories of the supernatural. With mystery,  suspense, and a good dose of romance. After years in the corporate world, I had to start writing my own such stories. And I had to do it New England – near mystical Salem, Mass.

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23 Responses to “Keys to a Successful Critique Group by Nina Singer”

  1. Hi Nina,

    I’ve never been in a critique group. My writers’ group use to have critiques at meetings. I got such a wide range of opinions they cancelled each other out.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | February 29, 2012, 7:14 am
    • Thanks for the comment, Mary Jo. That can be frustrating when you get contradictory comments on your work. We’ve been mostly lucky in our group – in that somehow one of us always plays ‘tie-breaker’. But ultimately, the writer has to be happy with the writing.

      Posted by Nina Jade Singer | February 29, 2012, 9:43 am
  2. Morning Nina!

    I’ve been a member of several critique groups, and have always learned amazing things from them. My current little group of CP’s seems to be juuuuuuust right. =) Now if there were just an easier way to accept the crits outside of the two margaritas and a hershey’s bar……

    =)

    Thanks for a great post!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | February 29, 2012, 7:30 am
  3. As I read this, it’s dark and stormy outside. Now I’m thinking of Salem and witch trials and spooky stuff. Thanks for setting me up for a good read! (Too bad I have to get some work done first.)

    I’ve been in several critique groups over the years, and I learned a lot from all of them. The biggest thing I learned is that it’s a mistake to think everyone is looking for the same thing in a critique partner.

    With your own work, too, it’s important to find CPs who tell you the hard truth without crippling your confidence. There’s a reason this subject comes up so often – it’s not easy to find that perfect fit!

    I’d be a total mess without my CPs. I’m very lucky to have them!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | February 29, 2012, 8:01 am
    • Hi Becke
      Thanks for stopping by! What a good way to say it: CP’s who tell you the truth without crippling confidence.
      Sounds like you’re having the perfect ‘curl up with a book day’. Hope you get your work done soon and enjoy!!

      Posted by Nina Jade Singer | February 29, 2012, 9:47 am
  4. Hi, Nina. Thank you for being here today!

    Critiquing can be such a tricky thing and I think writers need to really do their homework on finding the right critique partners.

    I have an amazing group, but it took me a long time to find just the right balance. Now, I depend on my CP’s to really let me have it. And I’m okay with it when they do. I trust that the comments are coming from a good place, so I never take it personally.

    On the flip side, I’ve had CP’s in the past whose comments have paralyzed me and that’s never a good thing.

    It’s tough stuff this critiquing, but finding the right group can be such a rewarding experience.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | February 29, 2012, 8:54 am
    • Thanks Adrienne! It’s awesome to be at Romance University today.
      I’ve had near-paralyzing comments made on my work. Contests can be brutal sometimes! It’s my critique partners who help me brush off the dust and get back on track.

      Posted by Nina Jade Singer | February 29, 2012, 9:51 am
  5. I think it also helps also to find people who “get” your voice. If they don’t, then you might end up with people who rewrite your work instead of helping you make it the best it can be.

    Great post, Nina!

    Posted by Denise Eagan | February 29, 2012, 9:30 am
  6. Thanks Denise!
    It’s so true. Not everyone is going to ‘get’ your voice. I appreciate you stopping by!

    Posted by Nina Jade Singer | February 29, 2012, 9:52 am
  7. Nina –

    Thanks for being at RU today. I’m curious how often you communicate with your critique partners. Do you tend to be in touch with them on a daily basis?

    Adrienne, Tracey & I communicate several times a week, but not always on critiques anymore.

    Thanks,
    Kelsey

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | February 29, 2012, 10:34 am
    • Hi Kelsey
      Thanks for stopping by to read the post. We try to meet about twice a month to actually critique. Certain times of the year that’s not very feasible. After any lull, we just pick up where we left off. But overall – yes, we’re in touch pretty much every day in one way or another.

      Posted by Nina Jade Singer | February 29, 2012, 4:43 pm
  8. I think it’s important when putting together a group to be clear as to what everyone wants to accomplish. Some people want line editing; some are looking for a bigger picture critique (ie does this scene work or is the character arc clear). Finally it helps to remember to keep a balance. We want to critique without overly criticizing; support with giving false praise.

    Having snacks and a good coffee supply is also vital.

    Posted by Barbara wallace | February 29, 2012, 1:01 pm
  9. Nina – Thanks so much for being with us today.

    I have three CP’s. One lives about 2 hours away, one lives halfway across the country and one lives in Australia. Thank God for Skype and unlimited calling plans!

    I think what makes us “work” is the belief that we are truly invested in each other’s success. We believe in the talent of the other members and we hold each othet to lovingly tough standards to make sure we are doing our best. Trust is the key.

    Posted by Robin Covington | February 29, 2012, 3:40 pm
  10. Nina,

    Great tips. And I totally agree about finding the right group whether it’s two people or twelve. Having a crit group tremendously helped my writing and I believe I contributed to their writing too.

    Posted by Jenna Rutland | February 29, 2012, 4:30 pm
  11. I’ve never belonged to a critique group only because I don’t have the time to read and comment on everyone’s ms. I have two crit great crit partners and two beta readers. We’ve achieved a comfort level with each other and don’t have a problem telling each other..this passage really bugs me! They know me so well that they can pick out the areas in my ms that I had trouble with.

    Thanks for being with us today, Nina!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | February 29, 2012, 5:19 pm
  12. Hi Nina,

    You have some awesome tips here regarding CPs. A good critique partner actually is worth her weight in gold!

    Congrats on the release of Secrets of The Knight and all the best!

    (Please do not enter me in the contest as I’ve alread read this fantastic book.)

    Posted by Riya | March 3, 2012, 2:23 am
  13. I have joined local writers group about 2 months ago, and at the first meeting I attended they wanted to pair me up with another fairly new member. I felt like I wasn’t ready, but now I am. I don’t know how to pick the right partner. Shouldn’t a partner be someone that has experience? Not necessarily published, but one that has some experience with submissions, editing, etc? Am I over thinking this? And what if I wanted to go outside my local group, what online groups do you recommend?

    Posted by Eden Slane | March 30, 2012, 5:45 am

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