While I’ve published three books and working on a fourth, I meet regularly with my critique group composed of other writers. Why submit myself to criticism? In my mind I’ll always remain someone who never stops learning the art of writing fiction.
Writing, I’ve found, is a learning process like any new endeavor. When I hear someone say, “I’m going to sit down someday and write a novel,” I wince because I started with the same mindset: just sit at a word processor and let words magically appear on the page. Like 99% of other writers, I soon learned acceptable good writing required a certain amount of research and study (the other 1% possess a gene denied the rest of us⸺meaning we admire them and hate their guts!). But for those like myself, learning a new skill meant reading books on writing, everything from how-to books to more esoteric works on rejection and writers’ block, all the while reading books by authors whom I admire.
In addition to digesting books on writing fiction, I consider critique groups an extremely valuable tool, especially for aspiring authors. Maybe the likes of Elizabeth George and Denis Lehane no longer see value in critique sessions, but most top-end writers have staffs and experienced editors to assist them. Me, I value the eyes and opinions of fellow writers.


If you’re a writer, participating in a critique group comes down to personal choice. First, you should have some bark on you i.e., a willingness to listen and accept criticism. Some people thoroughly enjoy and benefit from them, while other writers won’t go near one. Find the right one for you even it means test-driving several until you feel comfortable. I suggest you seek out people who have at least a modicum of writing experience or have been published, and who write a genre you can relate to. Don’t be argumentative or overly sensitive to negative comments. After all, that’s one of the reasons why you’re there.
Participants do more than sit around, drink wine, and talk about writing. In effective groups, each writer passes around a written chapter of a work in progress (usually no more than ten pages), then reads it aloud. Members make notes, observations, and critical suggestions for improvement, discussing them before moving on to the next author. I don’t have to agree with every comment or criticism or word change. In the end, it’s a subjective judgment. After all, it’s my book and I ultimately decide what changes are germane and what I want to remain unchanged, but I try hard to put aside my ego and kill off poor word choices, confusing passages, or unclear writing.
Ultimately, the best thing about critique groups is interacting with other writers. It’s a catalyst that recharges my writing batteries, that validates what I’m doing. In most instances, I can’t wait to get back to the keyboard to incorporate perceptive observations that improve what ends up on the final pages.