Writer's Notes

Critique Groups: 3 Keys for a Productive Writers’ Critique Group

DTF Red Sky

By Deborah Taylor-French

Critique groups for writers serve many purposes. Writers’ groups can keep us on track with our goals like families help members grow and celebrate milestones. Functional or dysfunctional, writers’ groups can help us or hold us back. We can learn from reading with an eye to what works and how others convey stories. We can embrace and acknowledge the thousands of ways to express feelings, thoughts, and actions, which pump life into written ideas and stories. A well-functioning writers’ critique group can advance our abilities and productivity. More importantly, a group can act in several ways to improve our skills, style, clarity, and marketability of our work.

Before You take the Plunge to a Critique Group

  1. Are you interested in learning and changing your writing? If your answer is no, please don’t join a writers’ critique group. There are other types of writers’ groups for you.


  1. Do you like helping others? If the answer is no, you should seek help from an editor and beta readers. Critiques are best as two-way streets.


  1. Do comments help you revise? Not all writers feel receptive to readers’ impressions and questions. If comments confuse or upset you, work with only one reader or professional editor at a time.

Do you feel confused or angry at other’s comments on your writing? Then proceed with caution. Know you have other options. A well-chosen first reader or editor can help.

On the other hand, if you’re curious what your writing means to other people, do join a writer’s critique group. An attitude of mutual helpfulness must be part of why writers join groups. Not only should you be able to answer, yes to all three questions but also the other members of your potential group should too.

Caution: Not All Writers’ Critique Groups Produce Positive Results

  • Be picky.
  • Visit different groups.
  • Ask do I need a face to face group?
  • Know that online groups are not for every writer.

Insightful Critiques Moved My Story onto the Page.

Two critique groups assisted the development in early drafts of my first novel. I learned TONS from my writing group. I consider myself fortunate to have found a positive minded and a mature set of writers. Those four writers read and made detailed comments or questions on my drafts. In our meetings, each writer read aloud his or her work. The group discussed that piece of writing then the author had a few minutes to ask questions of their readers.

Due to readers expressed confusion on my references of fictional time and character motive, I realized the essential parts of my story still resided in my mind. These repetitions of discovering I had failed to write down specifics known only to me, pointed me to what I needed to do to make my story more readable and engaging. Due to a vivid imagination, I had those story facts but had never placed them in my draft. Soon, I learned to choose from the most potent essential objects, feelings, and metaphors. These details expressed and defined my characters, setting, and action more clearly. I learned from writers/readers to include a fleshed-out range of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic descriptions. I overcame a habit of leaving 30% of scene details in my imagination.

Gradually, I learned to go deeper onto each page of fiction. Soon, my fiction writing gasped a subtle use of subtext and humor from reading my writers drafts. Essential details. In each critique, we pointed out what worked in each other’s drafts. Insightful readers pointed to specific word choices, character action, dialogue, and thoughts, which helped to steer the story. Of course, some of our comments were more effective than others.

As I continued to participate in critiques, my written languages skills grew more vivid and effective at communicating my stories into final drafts. Through weekly meetings, my critique group writers taught me to trust the strengths I had as a writer. Believing and using my writing strengths became vital in my long-distance run to my first novel.  Novelists need staying power for the arch of writing 50,000 to 100,000 words has hundreds of challenges. The years of work to produce a coherent novel-length book felt like a daunting challenge. I thought of myself as a marathon runner in training.

Writing one book, for most people, presents a considerable challenge. Because I wanted to write a series of Dog Leader Mysteries I had to reframe endless revisions and draft edits to seem manageable.

Key 1: Positive critique comments grow better writers.

I cannot stress this too strongly. Our format trained us to always remark on the skills, insight, and best elements of each piece of writing. Our marginalia notes, plus verbal comments, ALWAYS began with what we liked, what worked, and what made us want to read more. We looked for what made written passages ZING, SING, and FLOW.

We don’t only learn from our mistakes. We learn from what we do well. We learn from the skills others positively reinforce. We become far more willing to keep repeating behaviors and skills we know others like or find valuable.

Take Dogs for Example

Behavioral studies show dogs learn faster in favorable environments. Canines must have their positive behaviors reinforced. Cookie words, receiving treats, and praise made dogs repeat what they did right. Similarly, we do better when we know what we’re doing right. In functional families, we know our value. Our positive behaviors receive praise or rewards. Our loved ones shape our behavior.

Key 2: Make Clear Critique Agreements

In our meetings, we set up a group knowledge base and agreements with each of us reading Peter Elbow’s book, Writing Without Teachers. The importance of this step cannot be stressed enough. Research showed that creative writing students did not get better through negative criticism alone. These students improved their writing skills when an amount of time became devoted to hearing what they did right.

Key 3: Mutual aid and patience transform critique groups beyond critique

Critique groups raise our empathy. They expand our knowledge and show us myriad ways writers solve similar story problems. They also tend to build friendships, the best lasting support to help us with the business of writing, too. Want a beta reader for a blog post? Need to contact published authors or experts to secure book blurbs for your first book? Want to be more successful in marketing your books?  All these and more valuable progressions can come from a trustworthy and caring critique group.

Positive feedback turns out to be the most effective way to grow as a writer. Who knew? Sure, we can all learn from our mistakes. Even from the mistakes of other writers. Imagine an acknowledged discussion, with notes on what a skillful writer you are. How would that advance your understanding of what works in your writing? Even if you have a reliable and helpful critique group, you have much to gain from pointing out what worked, what made you laugh, what made you want to keep turning those pages.


Deborah Taylor-French, Photo by Cindy Pavlinac
Deborah Taylor-French, Photo by Cindy Pavlinac

Deborah Taylor-French writes mystery, myth, and poetry.

Her Red Sky at Night: Dog Leader Mysteries can be purchase at Amazon Books

Copperfield’s Books and on iUniverse Bookstore At iUniverse sells this book at the same price as Amazon Books.

Deborah blogs to “save dogs’ lives & dog lovers’ sanity” at Dog Leader Mysteries (.com). For six years as Redwood Writers’ Author Support Facilitator, she has nurtured writers at monthly meetings. Redwood Writers is the largest a branch of the California Writers Club.

A former guest artist for California’s Artists in the Schools, Deborah holds a master’s degree in dance education from UCLA. She taught dance as a discipline, an art form and as cultural heritage in private and public schools throughout the State of California.

She has raised five adopted dogs, three pet rabbits, and one daughter. Deborah lives with her family in northern California, plus Tokyo Tuxedo, one sassy adopted house rabbit.













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