Critique groups and writing groups are not the same. You may find your critique group in your writing group, but the main difference between the two is that critique groups focus on the actual manuscripts its members are writing. They give feedback and praise and suggestions for improvement. And they are vital to unpublished writers who have no agent or editor.
I’ve been in so many critique groups through the years, and while every single one of them helped me become a better writer, most of them ended in tears. The first group I belonged consisted of a dozen or so rotating folks. We did mostly poetry. Nobody ever liked my poems. Not ever. The focus with that group was always what is wrong, not what is right, what is good, what I want to see more of in your work.
Critique groups need a balance of helpful criticism diplomatically delivered after some enthusiastic praise.
After the poetry group, which I stayed in way too long for my poor ego, I formed a group of other writing teachers/writers. That group worked on prose while drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Things evolved, people dropped out, new people came in, but when the core group changed, something was lost and I couldn’t find it again. The biggest problem with this group was how many people failed to bring something to critique.
I have been in many groups where it turns out I am the only person who wrote a new chapter or new story. That just sucks for me.
I found my next group at a writer’s conference and we formed a tight bond through the Internet. We were all working on novels and we would read early drafts of complete novels. That group was ideal. Then one of us got published, another of us quit writing, and I, well, there I was, alone again.
This small group was also for awhile part of a bigger online group. So I was able to fall back on them. That group took chapters in rotation and I received 25 or so mostly excellent critiques of first chapters from them on 2 or 3 of my novels. But I felt an unease there so I stopped doing that one.
Then I joined DWW and after a year or so I was able to cobble together another group. I am the only original member of that group. One person quit to focus on writing her master’s thesis, another moved to Florida, another stopped writing her novel. Meanwhile I got email from former students who were still writing and I invited a few of them to join me. So that’s where I am now.
We meet once a month and will look at up to 30 pages. We met Saturday. It was grand. I would be happy to read full drafts of anything they write. And that’s the secret bonus of critique groups. Someone in your group will read your entire novel, especially if you offer to read theirs, too.
I get many requests from folks (mostly former students, but sometimes people who read my blog) asking me to read their work. I used to do this more often, but now I read only for a few people, one who has become a dear friend via the Internet and another because I was interested in the topic and could skim it.
I feel bad turning people down, but, like reviewing, if I do too much of it, I won’t have time for my own writing. If you need readers for your novel before you publish it, there are two ways to go. First, you can hire a professional editor. Second, you can ask your critique group. And that is just one of the reasons why critique groups are vital to writers.
If you are not in one, and you are unpublished, you really should look around and find a critique group, because pretty soon, if you’re persistent and lucky, you will finish that novel. And you’ll want some eyes on it before you upload it to Kindle.