On Taking Advice From Your Critique Group

Thursday, October 26, 2017
There is no finer feeling than those few moments of bliss when you’re sure you have created a written masterpiece the likes of which the world—nay the universe!—has ever known.

And then you sit down with your critique group.

In the strategies of improving our writing, the critique group is often the first line of defense against the dreaded rejection. But there are times to listen carefully to your critique partners and there are times when you should grab your manuscript and run.


When I was a little girl and someone would say something mean to me, I’d rush home to my mom and tearfully tell her all about the slight. Her standard response: “Consider the source.” Which I came to understand meant that I shouldn’t pay any attention to that person because she didn’t know what she was talking about.

It’s the same in your critique group. It matters who is giving the advice.

If the critique member is a generally strong writer, knows the genre as well as the industry, works regualrly on his/her craft, and manages to get published (or at least gets close to being published), then you should probably listen to that advice.

On the other hand, if the critique member is a hobby writer, doesn’t keep up with what’s going on with the industry or the other members in the group, shows up with more criticisms than helpful critique, then consider the source.


Technically, it doesn’t have to be three for this rule to work. If your critique group only has four members, for example, it could be the Rule of Two. But here’s how it works:

If a majority of members in your critique group point out the same problem in your manuscript, poem, or article, then you have a genuine problem, my friend, and a closer look at that problem is warranted.

However, do not count the critique member who hears someone mention a problem and chimes in, “Oh, yes! I noticed that, too!” It could be a legitimate critique, but it’s more likely the bandwagon member, that person who always piggybacks on someone else’s critique. You’re free to ignore the bandwagon member, but those other three people giving you the same advice? Ignore at your own risk. Which brings us to the last bit.


No matter how spot on your critique group is with their advice, let your notes and writing sit for a spell.

Yes, that can be challenging when your critique group has finally solved that pesky plot problem. You just want to dive right in and write away! But resist the urge to fix your problems immediately. Give yourself time to look at the whole rather than the parts. Ponder a while until you know exactly how you want to go about taking that advice.

Of course, don’t ponder for a month or you’ll forget everything. Just let your thoughts rest for a couple of days or even a week after your critique group meets. And then get back to work on that masterpiece. Because the next time—Ahhh, the next time!—your critique group is going to be amazed with what new writing brilliance you hath wrought!

Cathy C. Hall is a kidlit author and humor writer. She jumps in and out of critique groups so as her mother would also say: "Do what I say, not what I do!" (She does work steadily, though, and is always happy to share writing advice. Come see more here!)


Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--Sometimes a writer should discount praise, too.

I once was in a critique group--my first--and the members loved everything I wrote. Everything! There was never anything that could be improved.

Needless to say, that group kept me writing (because I wrote often enough to always have something to bring to the critique meetings) but they did nothing to help me grow as a writer.

Great advice, as usual. These days, do you belong to a group? If not, why not? I'm sure you have writing friends who would benefit from your talent and your wisdom...

Cathy C. Hall said...

Yep, I've had that situation as well, Sioux, and you're absolutely right: you do not grow at all!

Had a lovely critique group and then several members moved away. I joined up with another group for a while but it was such a trek to get there I finally gave it up. But I have a few trusted writers that I'll share with (online critique group) before I send a manuscript out into the world. That's fine but I sure miss seeing my writer friends in person!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Great advice, Cath. I've also experienced the bandwagon critique where one person does all the heavy lifting of the critique and the rest just agree with the first person. So you never know if that advice is truly helpful or not.

Sioux ~ I kind of feel that way about my critique group right now. I can't believe they love everything I've written. I have a tough time with critique groups because I feel like no one knows what to do with my writing or how to improve it. I feel it's too out there, so they just give it praise when I know it needs something. You're right though, it does keep you writing. That's the good part. I show up every week with something new.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Angela--There are writer friends in other parts of the country (hint hint) who would be glad to read something from you.

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Having belonged to a large critique group (8-10+) and then to a smaller one, I have to say I prefer the smaller format. It was easier to develop personal relationships and a strong understanding of the style of writing and the voice created by each person. That familiarity over time improved my ability to critique their work, and I know it brought my critique partners to a place where, because they knew my writing, they could spot when I was half-assing it or had just somehow really missed the mark. Finding critique partners you trust 100% is key. Unfortunately, like hunting rare gems, it isn't always an easy search.

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top