Monday Musing: What IS the Magic of a Critique Group

I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, but my mind is pretty much swimming in critique group stuff these days, as I get ready to head out to Pittsburgh to talk about it all at the Pennwriters conference this week. I’ll be talking about how to grow a strong group,  how to develop a truly helpful critique, and how to revise from critique feedback (without losing your mind!). What keeps coming to the surface, though, as I get the talks ready, is–once again–how important I think critique groups are.

Obviously. 🙂

I find myself, over and over, using the word “magic.” The magic of a critique group. That phrase keeps popping up in my workshops, out of my mouth, onto the keyboard.

So today, I thought I’d do a quick post on what I think that magic actually consists of:

The magic of a critique group is:

  • The comfort and trust that lets you be motivated to write more, simply because there are people at the other end waiting to read that more. This is, obviously, the flip side of being in a not-so-good group, where you’re actually hesitant or worried about sending those pages out. Build that trust–you’ll never regret it.
  • The joy of surrounding yourself (in-person or online) with people who get this writing thing, who–like you–live with and for words as many hours of the day that they can.
  • The spark of an idea as it jumps from one brain to another, as it literally bounces around the critique table, gathering momentum and depth and absolute right-itude, until it lands in the writer’s lap as a gift, all wrapped up in shiny paper and bright, curly ribbon.
  • The delight of reading the work of someone you care about and being completely wowed at their talent–that line that makes you laugh out loud, that character that pulls you into story, that scene that has you holding your breath. getting to be part of these authors’ writing world.
  • The explanations and examples, from several angles, that your critique partners give you about a problem in your manuscript. The feedback that lets you, at revision time, erase the worried frown on your face, snap your fingers, say, “Yes!” and start writing the new words. The better, stronger words.
  • The education you get in the writing craft, not just from what you  hear about your own writing, but from what you tell the other writers in your group about their projects. Every time you push yourself to dig deep into someone else’s book, every time you resist the impulse to not address a problem, every time you get your explanation as absolutely clear as possible, you’re learning. How easy is it for us, in our own books, to skate over the stuff that isn’t good enough–out of fear that we don’t know how to fix it. When we commit to a critique group, we commit to not skating over anybody else’s writing–and as we work to help them, we teach ourselves. Oh, yeah.

Those are just a few of the things that I’ve been thinking about and sort of re-realizing all over again this last week. What about you? What’s the magic of your group? What’s the magic you hope to find in a group some day?


  1. Terri Thayer says:

    Everything I know I learned in critique group!


    • beckylevine says:

      Oh, yeah? What about all those great writing books your read and workshops/retreats you go to. But the group is a pretty great teacher,too!


  2. I always say that I am a better writer for having to work at critiquing others. When I teach teachers about writing & revising I share that their students should ask these questions when critiquing a peer’s piece of writing:
    1. What is wrong with this writing?
    2. How can I help improve it?
    3. How can I avoid this mistake myself.

    Thanks for this post. Another good one for my wiki!


    • beckylevine says:

      I KNOW I’m a better writer from critiquing. And I like the “help” improve it a lot–not our job to take over, but to help. 🙂


  3. Julie says:

    You’ve described that magic very eloquently. I’ve been thinking all of those things about my critique group over the past couple of weeks. Mine is an online group, so the magic really sparks across the cloud, but it is there all the same.


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