Every serious writer benefits from being in a writers’ critique group. It is not hard to create online writing critique groups. For me, they have been more effective for editing help, than groups that meet face-to-face.
I like face-to-face local writing groups for creative pursuits, but not critique. On this page I’ll tell you why, and explain how I’ve started and maintained online critique groups.
What is a writing critique group?
A writers’ critique group serves as a place where you can get helpful suggestions for improving on your writing projects. Critique groups can be held in your living room, at a local meeting room, or online, here on the internet.
I have created and participated in writers’ groups both online and offline.
Reasons to belong to a writers’ critique group
A writing critique group serves as a place where you can find other people who understand what you’re going through as a writer, because they’re writers too. They have personal experience with issues mirroring your needs and concerns.
Why not get help from family members?
Online writing critique groups are comprised of people who will be the first readers of your new literary works of art. Though you’ll probably find that allowing your non-writing family members and friends to read your work can lead to a shattered ego, writers are often much more kind in their assessments because they know nothing is perfect, that typos and other errors are common, and that you’re doing your best.
Sometimes family members tend to make thoughtless remarks when reading humble first drafts, so you’ll do yourself a favor to cut them out of the critique process by having an online writing critique group to share your manuscripts with. This is an important step forward in professionalism.
Writing critique group members become friends and allies in the writing world
An online writing critique group, to be truly adhesive and effective, should be composed of people who want to become close friends. After all, you’re sharing your writing with these people. This is done in a professional way, but that doesn’t mean you’re not sharing something that is very close to your heart. It is my hope that after reading this page you’ll make your writing critique group members some of the closest friends of your lifetime.
The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide:
How to Make Revisions, Self-Edit,
and Give and Receive Feedback
By Becky Levine
This book starts with a chapter on how to find a critique group that’s just right for you. It discusses how to join or create a writing critique group, and how to run it.
The book delves into the business of critique with chapters on how to critique for plot, character, point of view, voice, dialogue, description, and scene.
Next it discusses many types of writing projects: magazine articles, non-fiction book proposals, self-help books, memoirs, travel writing, children’s picture books, early reader books and chapter books.
Finally it tells you how to use the critiques you get to improve your manuscript.
I will tell you how I did it on this page. I offer the book so you can get a second opinion on how to get started, and how to manage your group.
Narrow the the focus of online writers critique groups
It is wise to limit the genres your group will handle.
One group I belong to critiques only middle grade and young adult fiction. Another one is comprised of three novelists who met at the NaNoWriMo message board one year.
You can create a critique community that permits many types of writing to be shared for critique, or you can decide the group is only for people who want short mystery stories critiqued, or only poetry, or only chick-lit novels. The choice is yours.
Limit participation in your group, for best results
If you let everyone in, your group might as well be public.
It is best to decide, at the beginning, how many writers you’ll have in your critique group. Most writing critique groups are kept small so that adequate attention can be given to each writer in the group. My critique group has three writers, and we’re happy with that.
Do yourself a favor and keep it small, close, and personal. Three to ten writers with similar interests should be adequate.
Where will your critique group meet?
My opinion is that the best online writing critique groups meet on private message boards or in secret Facebook groups. I know there are a lot of critique groups that exchange manuscripts via email instead, even using mailing lists like Yahoo groups, but I’ve tried various types of groups and find that the best, the very best, are meeting on message boards.
It is easy to set up a message board if you have a website for it. This means getting a domain name and installing the message board.
If you don’t want to do this on your own website, there are services online where you can have a hosted message board… however you may have to deal with unwanted advertising on your message board or pay a fee to avoid the ads. If you choose this route, be sure that you’ll be able to make the message board entirely private. Your group must have privacy so that the writers will not lose their rights to sell their never-before-published writing. Anything that’s been placed on the web on a site that isn’t private is considered previously published, and loses value.
How to find members for online writing critique groups
Writers wanting to join critique groups are easy to find.
There are plenty of sites, mailing lists, and message boards for writers where you can go to post a brief invitation.
An example: “I’m starting a critique group for writers of spiritual self-help non-fiction. If you’d like to join, please email me. Include a brief bio, your writing goals, and a short writing sample of less than 1000 words.”
Be careful who you allow to become a member of your group
When you start your critique group it will be up to you to choose members. Ask for biographical information and a writing sample. From the writing sample you should be able to tell if the person is right for your group. Try to find members who are (1) writing in a genre similar to yours, and (2) at about your level of writing expertise.
It is not unusual for people to drop out of a critique group for one reason or another. If you have openings, invite more writers to submit applications. This time, however, you’ll need to share those with your critique group members and let everyone vote on which writers to allow into the group.
Be sure to let people who didn’t get voted in know that they need to continue searching for another critique group.
Critique group organization tips
You need to decide on your management style.
Some groups are very structured and others are more laid back. I’ve been in both types of groups and much prefer the ones without pressure to perform.
Structured groups require that all members submit manuscripts on a given schedule, that the manuscripts be a specific length, and that critiques be returned in a timely manner. The members who can’t abide by the schedule are eliminated from the group.
In my opinion, that’s not a friendly way to do business with writers. I believe that friendly networking is much more important. I like critique groups that grow into a circle of close friends, that accept that writers do have ups and downs and can’t always perform at a required pace.
In both critique groups that I’m presently blessed to be part of, manuscripts are submitted by writers when they feel a need for feedback, and critiques are given when writers find time to do them. It seems to work well most of the time.
Why I prefer online writing critique groups
I’ve been part of both offline and online writing critique groups and find that the online groups are much more pleasant for me. The offline groups with face-to-face critiques can be devastating for new writers who aren’t used to having their work criticized.
Online critique groups can provide a writer with support 24/7. If you need to talk to someone about something, you can go to your critique group’s message board and write about it as much as you need to.
I’ve never been able to bond as well with the critique groups I’ve been to IRL (in real life.) Petty interpersonal difficulties surfaced, and critiques seemed shallow. I did have a group in Happy Camp, CA (where I used to live) that was wonderful, but we wrote together (to prompts) rather than critiquing.
Online critiques give me line by line suggested changes that I usually accept with joy because doing the changes suggested will make my fiction stronger. I very much respect the opinions of my online critique partners. So I feel I’m getting more thorough critiques with none of the interpersonal hassles that can come from in-person critique groups.
I don’t mean to say that I don’t like IRL writing groups, because I do — when they are there for support and encouragement rather than for critiques.