Friday Speak Out!: The Value of a Critique Group

Friday, March 22, 2019
by Kay Butzin

For Christmas I received a T-shirt with the slogan I’m silently correcting your grammar. I haven’t had the nerve to wear it in public yet.

In my living room, I’m not silent, yelling corrections at television announcers, reporters, and interviewees who abuse the English language. However, my critique group members require a different approach from either of these. My fellow writers want constructive feedback. They want to know what is working and what isn’t.

So I admire the vivid verb and precise noun, praise an original turn of phrase as well as point out the cliché in need of one. I give the effective detail a double + but also note anything extraneous or confusing, taking care to respect individual style and the language differences among genres. A critique is not a rewrite. A grammar nut can’t help but make corrections and suggestions, but I remember that the author is the final author-ity.

Questions for evaluating plot, character, dialogue and setting:
• Does every paragraph and scene advance the plot? Do details contradict or support each other? What needs clarification? What else would I like to know?
• Could descriptions and explanations show more and tell less? Do they advance or interrupt the flow of the narrative?
• Can I believe in the characters’ motivations?
• Does the dialogue serve to make a point or illustrate character?
• Where does the story take place? When?
In offering my own work for critique, I listen to the members’ comments with an open mind and a closed mouth. Not engaged in defending my work, I hear what my readers either misunderstood or didn’t understand at all.

Rules for receiving the best critique:
• Leave your feelings at the door.
• Avoid giving too much back story. Let the writing speak for itself.
• At the end if you haven’t received it, ask for any specific feedback you need.
• Thank the members for their help.
The amount and quality of input will exceed your expectations, and you will have to make yourself stop thinking about corrections to concentrate on the next member’s presentation.

Before and After, my first place winner in the Women On Writing Q4 2018 Nonfiction Contest drew both praise and criticism when I shared it. Someone even caught an error in subject-verb agreement! I made every change the members suggested, and their input deserves a large part of the credit for the essay’s success.

Therefore, any work I submit from now on will have to pass my critique group’s inspection first.

* * *
Kay Butzin writes for pleasure more than profit and enters flash fiction and nonfiction contests to help her stay motivated and productive. Her guest post, Journaling Through Life’s Transitions, recently appeared on the blog. She shuns social media but will respond to email at
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Pamela Kenney said...

Thanks Kay! That was a great article on the benefits of critique groups.

Recently I finally worked up the nerve to do book readings and have received great feedback from them. But I haven't been able to brave the wilds of a critique group yet.

Margo Dill said...

I love this because it shows how you went through the process of critique and then had success! :)

Kay Butzin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kay Butzin said...

Thank you for the compliment. I learn as much from the feedback of my fellow writers as I do from books and classes.
BTW, is this the Pamela Kenny I knew in Texas?

Kay Butzin said...

Thank you for the compliment. I enjoy your posts and appreciate your feedback!

Pamela Kenney said...

No. I've never been to Texas.

I have to go some day.

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