Critique of the Critique Group

Finding a good critique group is like internet dating. You have to be very patient and willing to endure a few (sometimes more than a few) bad encounters. Any good critique always starts with the positive, and there are so many good things to say about a critique group that works. It's like having a deep conversation about one of your most favorite things in the whole world with your best friend/mentor/editor/cheerleader/mother all rolled into one. It's also about learning from other people's writing. You look forward to the session and, when you leave, you're eager to get back to your WIP as quickly as possible. If that's not your overall feeling about participating in a critique group, then something may be wrong. So now to the critique part...

The Top Ten Worst Critique Group Members

1. The Snob(s). There are likely to be different levels of experience and success in any writing group, but no one wants to participate in a group to feel inferior and intimidated. When I first moved to Colorado, and was trying to find a new critique group, I visited a group in Boulder. When I arrived I was told they had to vote on whether or not I would be "worthy" to join the group. I spent the whole time feeling like every comment, every word, was being judged. After the session was over, I went to the bathroom and was surprised to find, when I returned, the vote had occurred and I was invited to continue. Unfortunately, I didn't feel the same way about staying in the group. Awkward!

2. The Time Hog. If you have a group session that lasts two hours, she will always want to go first and will take 1:59 to talk about her WIP. Sometimes the Time Hog will even take other peoples' critique time and still make it about her story.

3. The Retro. He hasn't read a children's book since he was a child. His stories are full of names like Suzie Squirrel and Tommy Tree. There are sometimes rainbows and unicorns involved and usually a strong moral message. The worst example of this was a story I once read called (and I'm not kidding) "The Tree who Wanted to Grow Up to be a Telephone Pole."

4. The Distractor. She wants to talk about anything and everything but writing. Her children started swim lessons last week, her mother-in-law is visiting Paris next month, it's windy (cold, hot, rainy, etc.) outside, her favorite hairstylist is moving salons... you get the idea. She often has to leave the group session to take phone calls or return text messages. While I love the fact I'm more than just writing to my wonderful writing group, when we get down to business it's ALL about the writing and that time is precious.

5. The Harsh Critic/The NiceyPiecey. These two go together. She's just mean and never says anything positive. Just watching the face of the person being critiqued tells the story. It hurts. Nicey Piecey is just the opposite. EVERYTHING is wonderful and he never makes a suggestion for improvement--he can't think of a thing to make it better. Ever. Hearing what's not working is an important part of the critique process, but we also need to hear what IS working.

6. The Debater. She has a come back to every comment and suggestion. The result is that every critique session becomes an argument about why she did suchandsuch or why she didn't write it that way. Of course, you are the ultimate boss of your own story and the editorial decisions are your own. That said, you can't look over the shoulder of an editor or agent when they read your story and tell them why. The manuscript has to stand on it's own without explanation.

7. The Picker. He always focuses on the little details to the exclusion of the things that really matter. Should you call it a "monster" or a "gargoyle"? Discuss. All of this, when what you really need to know is, if the thing is dead or still hiding in the closet!

8. The Sulker. After her turn to read, she spends the entire rest of the critique session with arms crossed, eating potato chips, and refusing to comment on anyone else's manuscript. Something someone said didn't sit right and now she's closed down. We've all had those moments--at least emotionally--when it just hits us wrong. This person, however, ALWAYS reacts with sullen silence to any kind of criticism.

9. The Boss. He always knows what's best for your story including what the climatic scene should be, how the story should end and even where you should submit your manuscript. While helpful suggestions should always be appreciated, he takes it from advice to orders.

10. The Sporadic. She shows up infrequently and randomly. Because she misses so many sessions, she often doesn't know what people are working on and readers have to "catch her up" every time before they read.

This week, Katy and I head to the SCBWI Winter conference in New York where I'll be participating in critique groups. Hopefully, I won't run into any of these critique group characters and, most importantly, I really hope I won't turn into one of them myself! If you're in NY, please say hello. If not, don't despair, we'll have a special feature all next week sharing our adventures.


I wish I'd had this list of critique types years ago so I could have been on the lookout for them! It can be tough finding a group that meshes just right but I have to agree that it's well worth the effort! Have fun at the conference!

Hysterical! I am glad to be armed with this as I start my search for a group. Have a great time at the conference!

Hah! This is so true. Unfortunately I've encountered most of these types in one group or another! But, as you say, a good critiquer is like "best friend/mentor/editor/cheerleader/mother all rolled into one." Not always an easy person to find.

Great post! I have definitely met a few of these before...

Very much relate. I was once in a weekend critique group at a conference and someone there told me to take out any "made-up" language in my novel because she was so annoyed by Tolkien's "made-up" languages and no one should ever, ever use "made-up" language because it's distracting and annoying and you have to take time out to think about it...One thing is for sure---I will never forget the comment!

This is such a great post! My critique group last night had a sulker who refused to speak or even read after one of his comments got shot down. Then he started huffing and puffing and stomping around the room. I thought he was about to cough up a hairball or something. Vocal sulking. The worst kind.

Post a Comment

Grid_spot theme adapted by Lia Keyes. Powered by Blogger.


discover what the Muses get up to when they're not Musing

an ever-growing resource for writers

Popular Musings

Your Responses

Fellow Musers