How to be a rock star critique partner

Critique groups are lifelines for writers. Joining a new writing group can be kind of intimidating, especially when you’re new to an area or if you’re new to writing. But- when you find that right group? It’s game changing.

For me, the right group is made up of consistent, candid, encouraging people.

People who show up consistently create a group that builds momentum and accountability. Partners who are candid about what works and what doesn’t are super-helpful. I can’t improve as a writer if my group tells me everything’s great all the time (I know it’s not). Having said that, a positive, encouraging group is much more pleasant to be around than a bunch of Debbie Downers and motivates me to keep learning.

As I went out in search of my people, I learned a few things – first and foremost, I want to be the kind of partner that I would like to have in my group. Here’s a short list of what I learned to do:

Check expectations before showing up. Don’t go in unprepared – ask the group leader how many pages the writing sample should be. Should you share it before or during the meeting? What file format does everyone prefer?

Ask each member what they need. Some are interested in general reactions to their work; others may be trying to solve a specific problem. Tailor feedback to help each writer achieve his or her objectives.

Give as specific feedback as possible, and comment from my perspective. For example, “I wondered if this character might have a stronger response when his little sister fell,” is more constructive input than “Needs better characterization.”

Be considerate and helpful. No matter what type of feedback, consider how it would feel if you were the one receiving it. Deliver every comment, whether critical or complimentary, thoughtfully and with care for the receiver.

When you receive feedback, don’t freak out. Criticism of your work is not the same as criticism of you as a human being, so do not treat it as such. They’re notes from a fellow writer about how they reacted to your work product, not a judgment of your value or worth as a human being.

Don’t obsess but do notice trends. If you get certain types of feedback consistently, there’s a reason.

Try not to brush off the good things. If you’re like me, you are your own harshest critic. Learn to graciously accept compliments.

Remember to be respectful of the group’s time. Make an effort to be on time and prepared. Everyone understands that life happens, but if you’re going to miss a meeting or be late, let your group leader know.

The most productive groups are the ones who set clear expectations about group behavior early. It’s easier for everyone when they know what to expect.

Have anything to add to this list? Drop me a note and let me know. I’d love to learn!

** a version of this post first appeared on in October of 2020**

Published by Kelli McKinney

I'm a wife/mom/middle grade author

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