Critique Groups That Work:
A Handbook for Starting, Leading, & Participating in a Christian Writers Critique Group | Some Excerpts
I’m happy to be able to provide you with excerpts from my book Critique Groups That Work: A Handbook for Starting, Leading, & Participating in a Christian Writers Critique Group. My critique groups have been among the most significant assets to my writing. I couldn’t have published five books and over 1000 articles without their encouragement, their prayers, their critiques, and their prodding. If you aren’t part of a critique group, I urge you to find some old friends or new friends and start one. You won’t regret it.
If you don’t know where to start, where to find other writers, or what to do when you meet, this book will be your guide every step of the way. I welcome you to the ever-so-critical world of critique groups.
Is It Time for a Critique Group?
The muse hits and you pound the computer well into the night. Or while the kids are napping. Or on your lunch hour.
You know you’re a writer because you can’t not write. You’ve had stories in your soul from childhood. And now, finally, you’re birthing them.
But are they any good? Do they speak to anyone other than you and your cat?
There you sit, alone with your computer. Typing. Deleting. Typing again. Shaping words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into chapters. And then it’s done. Now what?
Some writers are content to simply put the words on the page. A cathartic process that brings solace to the soul, healing to the spirit, and clarity to the confusion. But others want to share their writing with the world. They want to publish. And when writing turns from hobby to profession, even a tentative profession, it may be time to bring others into the process. It may be time to join or start a critique group.
A critique group can help you get started, stay engaged, and finish well.
A critique group can help you polish your work and find a publisher.
A critique group can help you determine what type of writing you’re best at.
And perhaps most important, a critique group can support you, encourage you, and pray with you. Your critique group will rejoice with you when you make a sale or nail a rewrite. They’ll cry with you when you receive those inevitable rejections, and they’ll be the ones to pick you up, brush you off, and get you writing again. If you’re a writer, you know about the solitary life. Now it’s time to learn about the shared life.
This book suggests that if you are a Christian writer, you will benefit from a Christian group. However, we will also discuss other options. Only you know what will be best for you and your style of writing.
So let’s look at what you can gain from a critique group and how to get started.
We are coworkers belonging to God…1 Corinthians 3:9)
What is a Critique Group?
Critique groups can take a variety of forms, many of which we’ll discuss in this book. The form you select will depend on what is available near you, your personality, and the time you have available.
Simply stated, a critique group is a place to share your writing with the specific purpose of honing your skills and making your manuscript publication-ready. As a bonus, a critique group will provide you with support and encouragement in a lonely profession.
Let’s face it. We all think our writing is perfect. Or we think it’s terrible. The reality is probably somewhere in between, but we’ll never know that unless we share our writing with others.
John McPhee, writer for The New Yorker and author of 38 books, says, “If you lack confidence in setting one word after another and sense that you are stuck in a place from which you will never be set free, if you feel sure that you will never make it and were not cut out to do this, if your prose seems stillborn and you completely lack confidence, you much be a writer.” And I would add, you need a critique group to spur you on.
A critique group is a safer place to debut your work than sending it directly to a publisher. And the end-product after several people have had eyes on your piece will almost always be better than what you can produce alone.
Writers Group or Critique Group?
I differentiate between a writers’ group and a critique group, although the difference is slight. Typically, writers’ groups aim at improving writing skills, and networking, but not necessarily critiquing your work. They are wonderful for hobbyists or for professionals wanting to meet other writers.
A critique group, on the other hand, usually aims at making your writing publication-ready. You will want to decide on your purpose before beginning since it can be frustrating to have some members treat their writing as a hobby and others treat it as a profession. This distinction will be important in both the skills and support functions of the group.
This book will focus on critique groups for writers seeking publication.
I had been writing professionally for more than twenty years before I was invited to join my first critique group. We met regularly for about ten years. Some members came and went, but the core members were active for the whole time. When we started, I was the only published author. Over the years, almost every person who invested a few years in the group either had their work traditionally published or self-published. There have been at least 27 books from the six most active members, with publications continuing long after the group dissolved. Recently I started a new group comprised of five women who met at a writers’ conference. We used this book to structure and form our group.
Rejoice with those who rejoice;
mourn with those who mourn.Romans 12:15
 John McPhee, Draft No. 4 : On the Writing Process, First edition. ed. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017), 158.