Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Qualities of a Great Critique Group

I see so many posts on forums and in chats about finding a critique partner and critique group. I think it bears noting once again: There is no perfect critique group. There is no perfect critique partner.

There is a great-fitting critique group or partner.

You and I are sinners. We have flaws. And God has a way of bringing us critique partners that gently nudge at those edges, so God can mold us into who he wants to be...because this journey isn't just about our writing.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.-Philippians 1:6

So with the goal in mind of shaping us into Christ's image as writers. What should we look at in a critique group or partner? Does the standard of allowing God to mold us affect this decision? I believe very much so.

First off, to find the great critique group, we must be a great critique partner. Krista has a great post about that here and Casey's post about the link between reading and critiquing here. Not to mention, Mary has been doing a wonderful series about reading and our writing, which bears reading if you want to be a better critique partner, in my opinion.

Conversely, I find that God has used my group to shape me into a better critique partner. I'm not there yet, not at all. 

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.-Philippians 3:14

Our goal as writers should be the same as our goal as Christians to be ever obedient to the Spirit and continually pressing toward the goal of hearing "well done, good and faithful servant."

Your critiquing is a way to encourage others along the path and to witness your journey.

Use your words well. If you belong to a secular critique group, your words may be the only Christ-honoring novel your partners pick up. Don't stumble them. Likewise, we have the same responsibility toward other believers. 

Will your words offend someone? The Gospel in itself is offensive, but if we are offending readers because of our language, sensuality, or violence that's another matter altogether.

Here are some characteristics of a great critique group:

1) It is a place where you can be honest...but with kindness.

First, we must make sure we can take the honesty. Face-to-face groups can be harder, because you can't put that distance between yourself and the critique. You can't put it away to read tomorrow. 

The first published author who critiqued my writing asked me to put it away before evaluating or responding. Good advice.

I think there is a place for both types of critique. However I think there is a lot of value in building a tougher skin. For me, face-to-face group has been where I have done that.

Learn to express your critique in an honest but kind way in writing and in person. Its an excellent skill to bring into business and other areas of your life.

2) Recognize different personalities and styles to the group members.

You may have one person who gives you one word answers about your story. Another person may suggest changes in every single sentence. 

One might be more blunt. Another expresses it as a question. 

Find a good critique group and pretty soon you're a better critiquer yourself.

3) Be open to reading different genres.

I have to be honest, I would never choose to read science fiction on my own, with the exception of Mr. Tolkien's series AFTER watching the movie. However, someone in my group is an avid science fiction writer.

At the beginning, I had the most difficult time critiquing him. But good writing is good writing. Its not always about what we prefer.

So be open to these other genres and likewise realize that not everyone is a fan of your genre. Don't always take it personally. 

But it helps to find a group where there is an openness to different genres.

4) Dedication to craft.

Be dedicated. Show up when you say you will. Be on time. Don't commit to things you can't follow through on. Bring your work every time, even if you feel insecure. 

Likewise, find others who are dedicated to improving rather than staying stagnant. 

5) Diversity of experience.

It helps to have a wide-variety of ages, occupations, etc. in your group. Strange areas of knowledge can be extremely valuable.

I belong to a secular group, but this diversity allows me to share my beliefs through the context of story and often in a very non-threatening way. 

What about you? What do you consider the most important qualities of a critique group or critique partner? What can you personally work on to grow as a member of your critique group?

  Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also currently reviews for The Title Trakk and Christian Library Journal.


Marney McNall said...

I have only recently become involved with a critique group -and separate from this group-found an awesome critique partner. I am still very much learning how to critique well.

Reliability and consistency are very important to me. If you're part of the group, be committed to it. Respect the time and effort put in by others and follow through yourself. Really make an effort to make the meetings and support each other.

Julia M. Reffner said...


Yes, I so agree with you about reliability and consistency being so key.

Lindsay Harrel said...

Just recently I joined a critique group (two other ladies, face to face), which has been a great experience so far. And I found the best CP ever! :) Well, I firmly believe God brought us together.

I agree that reliability is important to me. Also, I don't want someone who will just say everything looks great. All growing up I hated peer review because that's all anyone ever told me. I want to improve, and that's no the way to do it!

I think I'm encouraging, but I also tend to hone in on the negative critiques or constructive criticism, rather. But we have to have a balance and also point out what the person does well, or she will get discouraged. I try to remind myself of that every time I critique.

Julia M. Reffner said...


I'll bet you are an excellent crit partner because you put the effort into it. Its good to seek that balance. I'm so glad you've found a great CP AND a group. Great combination!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I love what you said about us needing critique partners in life. What a brilliant statement and so true in life AND in writing! Iron sharpens iron, and other writers sharpens our writing, and other Christians helps us focus on the journey! Great word, Julia!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Truly words of wisdom Julia.
The entire post is beneficial.