The Power of Critique Groups

JT Ellison


Forgive me while I wax poetic. I have an amazing critique group. We even have a name – The Bodacious Music City Wordsmiths. BMW’s for short. This compilation of writers range from New York published authors to independently published authors to short story authors to authors whose first books aren’t out yet to unpublished authors. There’s one key ingredient that brings us together. We all love to write, and that respect carries over into our WIPs (works in progress).

Critique groups catch a lot of flak. Let me tell you, finding a good one takes time and effort, but a good critique group is worth its weight in gold.

When I was invited to join the BMW’s, I was thrilled and scared. I’d just come out of a different critique group, one that had really cooled my jets on having a group of people review my work. And I’d never even given them my work to critique.

We had a tyrannical leader who was really harsh, and not shy in his views. If things didn’t match what he thought they should, he harangued and brow beat the issue. He wasn’t critiquing, he was being critical. There’s a HUGE difference. Feelings got hurt, people lost interest, and we were over before we even began. It wasn’t the greatest experience, and I was a little leery about joining another. But I knew that I needed some outside input on my work, so I agreed to come to a meeting.

I was hooked from moment one.

All critique groups are set up in different ways, but the gist is you bring your pages, read them aloud and the group, obviously, critiques your work. In the BMW’s we bring 10 pages. Each person reads their work, then it’s a free-for-all. Likes, dislikes, comma splices, misused words, too much sex, too little sex, too many F-Bombs, your character is doing something unbelievable, your setting doesn’t work. Anything and everything is fair game. Sounds rough, doesn’t it?

The reason it works is that we all genuinely care about helping each other become better writers. Egos are checked at the door. Personal feelings are checked at the door. We’re all friends and there’s no need to worry that we’re going to hurt someone’s feelings because we find ways to work together for solutions to problems. That’s the key ingredient to any good group. Feel free to point out the glaring errors, just have a suggestion for how to make it better.

For me, the group has brought me out of my shell. When I first started with them, I could barely read my work aloud. It was mortifying. But a great lesson for the future. And now I look forward to my twice monthly meetings. They keep me focused on my work. I know that I’m required to show up with ten new pages every two weeks, and let me tell you, that keeps your nose to the grindstone.

I’ve asked my fellow BMW’s a question. What’s the most important thing you get out of the BWs and critique groups in general. Here’s some of the answers:

· Alternate perspective. Like most people, I haven’t always written what I think. The group sees what’s on paper, not what I was thinking.

· Besides heads-up help, shared knowledge.

For me, I find that I get such a sense of camaraderie from my group. Knowing I’m not the only one having issues and eureka moments really helps me engage. Whether you’re a new writer or an old hat, a critique group can help your writing improve.

Have any critique group suggestions/stories to share? Please post them in our comment section!!!

Wine of the Week – A very fine wine — Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon



Tomorrow’s ON THE BUBBLE will have ANOTHER phenomenal guest. Last week’s interview was  Tess Gerritsen. Who will Elaine pull out of her hat tomorrow? Stay tuned to see…

6 thoughts on “The Power of Critique Groups

  1. Bill Cameron

    I have a wonderful critique group as well. My own novel wouldn’t be what it is, and probably not on the path to publication without them. Your group sounds a lot like mine. Egos checked at the door, supportive, focused on making us all better writers. A great critique group is a treasure if you get find one.

  2. Ron Estrada

    Crit groups can be tough. I’ve exhausted several, both “live” and online. The problem with online is you don’t get the immediate reaction. My critters tend to point out technical problems and miss the generalities you mentioned. I’m still looking for “live” critters. Anyone near Oxford, Michigan? (Besides Mark Terry)

  3. Naomi

    In the beginning of my attempts to write a novel, I went to groups just for the discipline of turning in pages. Here in Southern Cal, UCLA Extension has some great instructors, including right now Rob Roberge, Tod Goldberg, Jerrilyn Farmer, etc. (UCLA Ex has online classes, Ron! The only thing is that they are expensive.)

    As I became more serious, I belonged to a couple of select groups. One, which was comprised of only three people, was wonderful–we really wanted each other to succeed, but we also wanted to challenge each other.

    The problem with staying too long with a group, any small group for that matter, is that people start to play roles which prevent others from growing. Sometimes sustaining THE GROUP becomes more important than the individual writing.

    I’ve made some fantastic friends and we’ve kept in touch through all these years. But now my main critiquers are my agent and editor.

  4. Elaine

    I’ve not had critique group experiences, so I can’t really offer much – but – from what I’ve heard and read – belonging to one can be a double-edged sword. Lucky, you, J.T. to have found a great one!

    And many thanks for tomorrow’s tease!

  5. Pari

    Like Naomi, I started with a critique group — good people, smart comments. But an odd thing happened when I matured more as a writer. I became protective of my work — not because of worry about anyone stealing ideas or anything like that — it was simply that I wanted to protect the voice and the personal creative process. I didn’t want to hear what anyone else had to say until the book was done and the commentator could help me get it published.

    Now, it’s my agent — and my editor — that I want to talk with the most.

    A good critique group can be a wonderful thing, but I can’t imagine joining one again for a long, long time — if ever.

  6. JT Ellison

    Naomi and Pari, that’s fascinating. I certainly run everything by my agent, and I know once we get groovin’, my editor as well. But my girls are awesome. Each voice is so unique, each style and genre different, I think that allows all of us to become better writers. We are different than a lot of groups, and I’m so lucky to have them. I can see your point though.Ron, I can imagine the online would be difficult. That’s how my first one was, but we did get together every so often. I hope you’ve found some people close to you through this. Check in with Sisters in Crime, I think there’s a chapter near you. They may have some suggestions.Bill, yeah. My group doesn’t change my work, they point out the mistakes I’ve made. It makes the book stronger, in my opinion.Great comments, guys. Thank you!


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