Thursday I met friends for dinner. These are people who are current or former members of the Slug Tribe, the long-running Austin writer’s group. I haven’t gone in a while but I don’t think it means I won’t ever go again. The group is geared toward beginners, and it’s a great resource, but I’m not sure it still works for me. This isn’t to say I no longer have anything to learn — after my other critique group eviscerated my latest efforts with the rapacious glee of a horde of Jack Russell Terriers, I would say I have plenty to learn.

Not all groups work for all writers.

Every writer has to learn this. Some groups work for a while, some are the right — or wrong — combination of members, some groups are cliquish or have quirky rules, or there’s a hierarchy…

 For the record, the Slug Tribe was none of those things for me.

 This is what a critique group should do:

Critique groups should be effective. A long time ago I was in RMCrit, an online critique group that gathered out of the Rumor Mill, the long-lamented online community around Speculations. This group rocked. I sold three stories to major markets after critiquing through this group, one of which went on to be reprinted in Year’s Best Fantasy 3.

Critique groups should be professional. RMCRit disbanded in part because of one person who chose to make personal criticisms that were more about the writer than the work. Her lack of professionalism was a driving factor in the increasing discomfort in the group. Emotions run high in groups, so the more professional the better.

This is not to say that critique groups should be soft or gentle. So rule three is, in order to be a good critique group member, grow a thick skin. You will thank yourself later.

Critique groups should have the right mix of writers. Some groups, like Turkey City in Austin, are for writers who already have publishing credits and the critiquing is corresponding tough. The talent brought together at a Turkey City session is pretty amazing. I went to one. I probably will not go again.

That was not the right group for me.

Beginning groups are a good place to start, but be aware that if everyone is a beginner, the feedback is going to be all over the place. People may not be able to articulate why they like something or don’t like it. Persevere. If the group is working toward a common goal — getting better, getting published — you will get something out of the experience. As you become better writers, you become better critiquers, and everyone grows through the experience.

So what if you join a group and it isn’t right, or things change and the group becomes wrong for you? It’s time to move on. If your writing isn’t getting better, or you aren’t selling, the group is no longer a positive for you.

Not all groups work for all writers.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.