Critique Partners–Why Start with One?

In The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide, I talk about ways to find a critique group and ways to start your own. There are lots of reasons why you might build your own group–from not finding an existing group that works for you to wanting just a little bit more control over how your group is run.

If you’re setting out to grow a critique group, I really recommend starting small–with one critique partner. Why? Well, I’ll tell you.

  • It’s often easier (and faster) to find one other writer who’s looking to critique, than it is to find several all at once.
  • Building a critique group is a little bit like cooking. if you throw all the spices into the pot at once, it’s hard to tell–if the recipe doesn’t taste right–which spice might be the problem. If you get together with three or four other writers/critiquers at the same time, and the group is having some problems, it may be tricky to figure out which critiquers you fit with and which you don’t.
  • To carry on the cooking metaphor, once you’ve tossed in all those spices, it’s a little tricky to pull out the one that makes the recipe too bitter, or even too sweet. 🙂 Ditto with a critique group, if you invite several writers all at once, and one doesn’t click with another, you have some not easy choices to make and actions to take. If you and a critique partner aren’t a match, it’s simpler to back up and both start over on your hunts.
  • With one critique partner, you can test things out. You can more easily see what works for the both of you, from things as basic as what time to meet to deciding what to do when you don’t have anything to critique (Hint: You could always write!). You can set the group up so that the two of you are happy, then add another member.
  • You get a chance to find that one, at least, critique partner who is your dream. From then on, you have a core group. My “rule” is that, once you have a core group that works–whether that core is two critiquers, or three, or four–that core is what matters. If you interview a new writer and one of the core members isn’t comfortable with them, the new writer isn’t invited to join. If you add someone to the group, and one of the core members has a (consistently bad) problem with their critiques, the group talks to the new member about troubleshooting and, if necessary, asks them to leave. Again, starting with one good critique partner lets you establish this core.

Of course, the next question is, where do you find this critique partner. Well, the same places you look for a group–in writing clubs, at conferences, by posting on craigslist or at the bookstore, and online. I’m not saying it’ll be an easy search, but I do believe your writing is worth it.

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8 thoughts on “Critique Partners–Why Start with One?

  1. Your blog on starting a critique group is right on. I’m in three groups and still have a one-on-one exchange with two other writers. Fortunately, only one time did I have a disastrous experience exchanging work and it was in a newly formed large group (8 people).

    Thanks for the post.

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    • beckylevine says:

      There’s something about a lot of nervous people jumping into a new venture together, at once, that makes things harder, I think. So glad your groups and critique partnerships are thriving!

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  2. Shawna says:

    Your spice metaphor is perfect. It is so much easier to get any kinks worked out of the system if there are only two members. More people = more temperaments, egos, styles.

    Sage advice as always, Becky.

    Thanks.

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    • beckylevine says:

      Thanks, Shawna. That’s a relief–because I’m not even a good cook! (Although I did get the “Sage” advice…ha!)

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  3. Genre of writing matters. A poetry group may want more diverse approaches and nurture the ability to be flexible required of a group larger than two poets.

    A huge problem, I agree, is suddenly acquiring one who doesn’t fit. What about dealing with one who gets along with two, but irks the other two? (And it’s difficult/impolite to speak frankly about it.) No group really needs a bull in a china-shop, but when our group of fiction writers gets less than four, I get nervous that everyone goes on vacation at the same time. A meeting becomes not worth the gas to drive there. If larger than four, I spend too much time “grading papers” (making my marked up comments to them). But I’m blind enough to need their comments (to keep improving).

    I tell myself, I learn something every time I critique someone’s work, even if it’s less than stellar writing.

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  4. beckylevine says:

    I agree–poetry is a big difference for critiquing. And I think all groups need mor than two people, but I think you can take time to build to that point and keep everyone happy!

    I do see four as a good number!

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  5. beckylevine says:

    Here’s a comment that accidentally got mailed to me instead of being posted. 🙂

    Becky-San,

    I’ve been happily part of a two-person critique group for two years now. The feedback’s great, it’s making me move my stories along and it keeps me writing. Only problem: as we’ve gotten to know each other, we now spend half of the time chit-chatting and half of the time (or less) really working. I like chit-chatting but I’m also eager to get working on the writing. I want to be more productive, more efficient. The process is too slow for me and I’m an impatient person. Also my critique group partner is not tech-savvy at all, sometimes hard to reach and it’s not working for me. I’m all for online critiques when time is of the essence, or for web presence and sharing. Looks to me like I need to find another critique group partner who’ll fit the bill. What’s the PC way to go about this? Of course, we both belong to the NorCal SCBWI.

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    • beckylevine says:

      You know, if the feedback is great, I don’t know that I’d step away from this partner–good feedback is not that easy to find. 🙂 My group goes through these periods, too, where we talk to much and have to be stern with ourselves and stay on track. Can you talk with the other writer about this, even check your clocks & say “catch-up” is for 15 minutes, then we work? You may want to find a third critiquer to add to the group–that can be a very good dynamic! If you really feel you have to stop critiquing with this person, I would just try to be honest & respectful, and explain that you’re looking for a different fit/style of critique. But I’d think about it first. 🙂

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