Before I began writing fiction, I was an academic living in a publish-or-perish world. I submitted articles to journals that accepted them, rejected them or (most often) asked me to revise and resubmit. In that last situation, they returned my draft along with several, single-spaced pages of feedback from reviewers. My professional future depended on my ability to use that feedback to produce better work. I admit my first reaction was always a day of depression as I fought off the temptation to bury the thing in the backyard. But after that, I settled down to revise.
I found my work was always better after I worked through the critiques. Always.
A writing group (sometimes also called a ‘critique group’ or a ‘writing circle’) is a collective of writers who offer and receive support for their work in the form of constructive criticism and feedback.
Writing groups can take many forms, from online ‘drop-in’ forums and sites such as Discord to face-to-face gatherings (pandemic permitting) meeting on a scheduled day in a regular, local location.
The operation of these groups is also incredibly varied. Some writing groups decide to provide feedback on one person’s work per session, while others operate more informally with read-throughs and a Q&A format.
No matter what sort of writing group you find yourself attached to, if giving and receiving honest feedback and constructive critiques are part of the process, then there are some best-practice dos and don’ts you can follow to make the most of your time there.
I’ve belonged to a lot of writing groups over the years. Gradually, I’ve learned that getting the most from them depended on how I responded both in the moment and in the long term.
Being part of any club or group will require a certain amount of commitment — if you’re the sort of person who would rather write (and read) something new every week, you’ll probably be bored with a group that only meets once a month. Here are some general etiquette rules for groups of any shape or size:
It can be scary/daunting when it’s time for others to read your work. The most important thing to remember is that you’re there to improve and learn. Here are some other tips for getting the most out of your week.
No-one likes to be spoken down to or have their work ripped apart for no reason. The writing critique process should always be about positivity — even when there are improvements to be made. If you can be kind while being completely honest about what does and doesn’t work within a piece of writing, your writing group is going to consider you an important asset.
You may decide you prefer to work with beta readers or an editor, but if you’re up for it, a writing group can give you invaluable help. Rejoice at both the good and bad things they say, and use them to make your work better and grow as a writer.
If you don’t feel quite confident enough to find a writing group to call your own, don’t worry! We all work at our own pace, and some writers prefer to have a manuscript or piece of work that is a bit more polished before anyone is allowed to see it.
Why not take a look at our book Tell Me How To Write A Story by E.J. Runyon to give you that little bit of additional clarity when it comes to self-editing your work?
If you’re wondering what the result of joining a fantastic writing group can look like, download the first chapter of Dorothy’s latest book — The Trickster — for FREE, and join Fitch and Dilly as they struggle against old loyalties to save Lac’s Holding.
For about a dozen years, I taught technical writing at Iowa State University and served as a Journal editor, but then I decided writing middle-grade (MG) and young adult (YA) fantasy was more fun.