Nobody improves alone. Which makes having a writing partner, regular editor, or critique group absolutely essential. But most writers are not so lucky that they have other writers built into their social circle. Most of us have to go out looking.
That is its own daunting task, isn’t it? Suddenly, we’re lost in a sea of abandoned online groups and local calendars crowded with everything except what we’re looking for. Yet, because you understand how impossible it is to edit yourself, you continue asking: How do I find a writing critique group?
In this post, I will list the best outlets I’ve discovered in my many years as a book person, and I’ll tell you how each one can contribute to your search for a writing critique group. However, all writing groups are not created equal and you often have to sift through several less-than-ideal ones to find a good one. Which is why I’m starting this article off with suggestions on what makes a good critique group. You don’t want just any old group, trust me on that.
What Makes a Good Critique Group?
A critique group should be an agreement between fellow writers to take each other’s work seriously and to treat it with care. It will not be helpful to your writing if you wind up in a group of people who are the polar opposite of your target market.
I’ve heard about it from clients and I’ve experienced it myself: the writing group that squints at your work because it’s “weird.” What you’re usually thinking at that point is, Well, yeah, weird is what I’m going for. If you’re a writer of science fiction and fantasy, make damn sure there are sci-fi fans in the group. Speculative fiction pushes boundaries by nature, so you want people who understand that. You do not want writing advice from someone who turns their nose up at your genre.
The other two factors you’re looking for in a group are these words: commitment and care. You want other writers who are just as committed as you to be successful because they are the ones who will push themselves to keep learning, keep practicing, and keep improving. If you’re driven to publish, but many in your group are happy dabbling on the weekends, they may not be the best fit.
That other word, care, is more important than people think. We get all the rhetoric about having thick skin as a writer and accepting criticism, and I’m not about to debate the value of that advice, but we also don’t put enough weight on the constructive part of criticism or the gentleness with which it’s delivered. As a new writer, harsh feedback can very much shove you back a few steps. There are writers out there who will roll their eyes and scoff at that silly mistake you made. How could you be so stupid? You call yourself a writer? And as Murphy would have it, they’re more likely to turn up at your writing group than anywhere else.
Story criticism does not exist to tear your story apart, tell you what it should be, or point out your faults. Constructive story criticism is supposed to highlight areas in which you can improve and, most importantly, tell you how to improve. If you find yourself in a writing group that continually makes you feel down-trodden or like you’re not good enough, then find another group. There are enough out there that you do not need to subject yourself to that.
Now, onto the big question: how to find a writing group. Let’s start with the first place many people think to look.
Your Local Library
This is your easiest, most straightforward, most cost-effective, and most obvious source. Go to your community library’s website and check for creative writing workshops. If they don’t have any, surrounding libraries might.
These services are free and open to the public, making them the perfect first stop for you, and for writers of all genres. Often, a general writing group will have writers from numerous disciplines and look something like this: a young adult starting out in poetry, a retiree looking to finally write their memoir, an academic compiling a history on their university, and a stay-at-home-mom writing romance.
Every new writer is going to benefit from an introductory course, and it’s good experience to mingle with writers of other genres (they learn techniques you might never have thought of), but there will likely come a time when you’ll want to seek out venues that are more concentrated on your genre.
This will include any sort of event that centers around books—author signings, sci-fi conventions, bookstore meetups, etc. These are the next level up because, while they can be free to attend, they come together with the explicit hope you’re going to buy a book. And while most of us have plenty of love for the books, it’s also key in how to find a writing group.
Bookstores often put on writing workshops or book clubs that are free to join but they do it to bring in customers, even if all you’re buying is a coffee. Why would you join a book club, you ask, when what I promised in this article were critique groups? Because finding a writing group that will legitimately help you improve is going to take some work. You’re dating. Looking for that serious relationship. Not shopping around for compliments. All book-related events are fair game because all book-related events are going to attract book people. Go to these events with the intention to take names. Remember their faces. Start conversations.
Author signing events are a different animal because you don’t go to learn the craft or share your work, you go to meet a fully fledged author who would love to connect with you. Seriously. People often shy away from “bothering” the writer but they want to meet readers! Go talk to them! Then, when you leave, look them up on social media. They have a page, I guarantee it. They have a few committed followers who you’re going to see time and time again in the comments section. Talk to them. Start conversations.
Conventions combine both craft workshops and author booths. This makes it the best of the literary events to go to, but it’s pay to play. You’ve got to buy a ticket to get in. But you’re going to get there and realize you saw that one guy at the bookstore. And that woman there, she was at both the bookstore and the library class. Start conversations.
This is how you network. You already have an in. You go up to them and say, “Hey, I saw you at [event] and [other event]. I’m [name]. You write [genre] right? How’s that going for you?” Then, for the sake of your career, get their name. Get their email. Look them up on social media. Are you seeing the trend here? You’re not going to these events because they contain critique groups. You’re going to these events because they contain writers. What are critique groups made of? Yep. Writers.
Seminars & Workshops
These are going to be classes put on by authors and editors that are not free (unlike at libraries and bookstores) but are directed at a specific portion of craft (unlike author signings and conventions). They key here is that you’re meeting and learning from someone who knows what they’re doing. You want to know that person.
I would include writing retreats in this category as well. They’re going to be more expensive than your convention ticket or small course, but you’re going to get that much more of a level of commitment from attendees. These will be the people who are truly devoted to getting published. You want to know every single one of them.
Retreats are usually set up so you have multiple days with other writers to learn and share. So, while they’re the priciest option here, they also carry the most benefit. That’s not a coincidence. You might not be able to afford doing something like this very often, but the level of expense is going to naturally guarantee the level of dedication.
Be sure to check around for these. You might be thinking of the type of retreat that whisks you away to a Sierra Nevada cabin to be all Walt Whitman about it, but there are also retreats that are local and more like extended workshops.
How to Find a Writing Group: Answered
You might have sussed out my intention by now. There are writing groups out there for you to look up and try out. For beginner writers, this is a great option, as there is lots to learn. But the more you grow and improve, the sooner you’ll outgrow the low-hanging fruit.
Here is your ideal writing group: three to five people who all write in your genre and are all dedicated to publishing. The reason this is the prime choice is because this is the recipe for an intimate look into how a story develops and is then refined. This is your source for honest feedback, given in kindness, from someone else who is going through the daily trials and pitfalls of learning to write a story.
The chances of a writing critique group like this advertising that they’re open to new members is slim. Thus, the best chance you have a finding that serious relationship, is to build it yourself. I know that’s not the answer you were hoping for. But, as you may already know, most things in writing that seem like they should be straightforward are not. At all.
What About Writing Groups Online?
Online groups are tricky. Are there good ones? Sure. But you have to go about them pretty much in the same way I outlined here.
It’s super easy to get on any social media and search “writing critique group.” You’ll usually find two types: the one with 100,000+ members with tons of comment activity, or the one with 14 members that hasn’t had a comment in the past year. Neither of those is ideal. In those large groups, you’ll get accosted with conflicting advice from non-starters, and spend forever sifting through questions like “How do I describe brown eyes?”
The better online writing groups I’ve heard of are more hidden, and a little exclusive. The way to do it is to take a virtual seminar or workshop from a writer or organization you respect. Like in the real-life seminars, that is where you’ll find the people who are serious and have already leapt above the 100,000+ group. And, like in the real-life seminars, you’ll have to connect and start conversations. It’s a scary thing to do, I know. But remember there are plenty of other writers who are also trying to figure out how to find a writing group. It’ll go better than you think it will.
You’re looking for something right now, I’d bet. You’ve got a story in the green room, waiting to go on stage, and you’d really like some feedback before it does. We do that. It’s called our Short Story Review. It’s $50 for 5,000 words—which is a pretty good deal—and the price adjusts based on word count. With a Short Story Review we’ll tell you where your writing can be honed and what your story is missing.
You might want to argue that a critique group doesn’t cost anything and you’d rather do that. But that’s not entirely true. A critique group is a trade-off. Another writer is correcting your work in exchange for corrections on theirs. In this case, the price equates to the time you don’t have to spend on those other corrections.
If you’re not ready for that option, join our Facebook group. We’ve got an active community and love to talk about writing. You’ll find like minds in the sci-fi and fantasy realm there. And if you’re one of the many of us struggling with networking skills, check out the introductory post on our Networking for Authors series. There’s a whole list of things we write about at the bottom.