Monday, June 11, 2012

The Trouble With Critique Groups

Have you participated in a critique groups? If so, how did it work out for you? If not, why have you avoided them to this point?

I had an unpleasant writer's group experience last week that seems appropriate to share here. 

I found this group through MeetUp, which is basically a website where people can form clubs/groups for whatever types of things interest them and meet other people with the same interests.  I was pretty excited about going -- excited enough that I went on an a trek across town all by myself when I'm terrified of driving in the city, so that should be a good indication.  

Anyway, the whole thing was....lame.  The people weren't very friendly, the writing was awful and nobody seemed to know how to critique.  It didn't help that the coffee shop we were meeting in was extremely noisy, over-priced and nearly impossible to park at.  Needless to say, I won't be repeating that experience. 

It's sad, though, because I would love having a writer's group.  Writing is a lonely business, and it helps to know that there's other people out there who are going through the exact same things as you and won't think you're nuts when you talk about your characters like they're real people. 

When I was first starting out as a kid, I found a website called InkSpot.  It was a really great site, in part I think because the Internet and web forums in general were such a different experience back then.  I joined, '98 or '99?  The Internet was still new and shiny and forums worked differently.  It had an IRC chat (do those even still exist?) and the boards didn't bump and you had to learn HTML to customize your posts. 

Anyway, InkSpot was pretty excellent.  There was one forum that I basically lived on for teenage writers.  The moderator was Joni Rodgers, who's one of the coolest people ever and was the very first published writer I'd ever met in my life. She let us play rough, so we were always debating all the Big Questions while we talked about writing. 

I stayed on InkSpot for several years and made a ton of friends.  Some of them I continued to chat with on ICQ (!) and at least one I was still very close with through college until we finally fell out of touch.  Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and InkSpot was eventually bought out by XLibris.  Many of the moderators and most of the regulars resigned in protest, and the site pretty much folded. 

I never really found another place I belonged after that.  I tried.  Oh, I tried.  I've been on so many critique websites (Zoetrope, Urbis, WriterBuddy, CritiqueCircle, dozens more whose names I've forgotten).  I tried graduate school and hated it.  Most recently I've joined QueryTracker and Absolute Write, and while I like them, I'm just not feeling the same.  Then again, I feel that way about the Internet in general these days -- I always tend to get very nostalgic. 

Don't get me wrong -- I've made some friends online since then -- but I'm still looking for the best match. 


  1. That writers group sounds horrible!! All the best finding a group that is the right fit :)

    1. It was pretty terrible. It had all of the snobbery of the bad MFA program, but the writing was worse. Subscribing to the Thumper rule (if you can't say nothin' nice...) I said absolutely nothing that evening, which is a real first for me. Usually you can't get me to shut up!

  2. Great post. I think you have to feel a connection to a group to get valuable and trustworthy input on your writing. I haven't had any luck yet, but I keep trying. I love my online writing communities, but I really want an in-person one. Glad to know I'm not alone.

    1. It's true. For me, especially, I want a sense of friendship just as much as solid critique, and that's pretty hard to get if you don't really connect with your fellows. It's also hard finding people who are 1.) of a comparable skill level and 2.) writing in similar genres.

      Best of luck in finding a group!