My writers’/critique group, the Cochise Writers’ Group, has been going through some changes lately and that’s gotten me thinking about critique groups in general: their purpose, size, makeup, and so on. This post starts an occasional series as I collect my thoughts and observations about them.
One of the most argued about questions in writer-dom is whether writers should join critique groups or not. There are some people who are absolutely certain they know what the right answer is for everyone. Multi-published author Dean Wesley Smith is death on writers’ groups. I guess he had a bad experience with one once, but if he did, that’s not a sufficient reason–not a reason at all, really–to declare all groups bad all the time for all writers.
Here’s the thing. (Check out this blinding grasp of the obvious.) Every writer is different: different personality, different needs, different skill level, different… well, different everything.
So is every critique group. Some are big, some are small, some in-between. Some are made up of advanced writers, some of newbies, some a mix. Some focus on one genre, some will critique anything. Some are egalitarian, with everyone contributing to the best of their ability; some are dominated by a single individual. Some (often those dominated by one person) can be destructive; some–the best–work hard to help each other get better. Some meet weekly, some biweekly, some every month. Some meet in person, others are online.
And that’s what makes finding the right group a challenge for writers, presuming, of course, that they think they want and need such a group–by no means a given. How many groups are there close–whatever that might mean–to a given writer? Do they meet at a convenient time? How do they work? How much work can a writer submit? How quickly will it get reviewed?
Very important: What’s the personality of the group: welcoming or not, helpful or critical, constructive or destructive?
Most important: What does the writer want to get out of being a part of the group? And what do they hope to contribute to it?
There’s no “right” answer for all writers, just a “right-for-now” answer for each writer, and each writer has to figure that out for themselves.