What makes a good critique group?

A few months ago, my Asheville critique group was invited to speak at the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival in Burnsville, NC, about what made a successful critique group. This got us thinking (over wine) and discussing (over wine) and after careful deliberation (over wine), we accepted and started to analyze what really did make us a great critique group. (Wine?)

We gave the talk on Saturday, and it rocked! The audience was very engaged and had lots of questions. It made me realize how many people out there don’t know how to find a good critique group, or what to do when you’re in one. I’m lucky that my group, The Secret Gardeners, are all talented and committed ladies. So I thought I’d share our secret.

Honest feedback. Many people, especially when starting out, want to hear their work is good. And that’s OK! But just hearing praise won’t make you a stronger writer. In fact, it might give you a distorted sense of what works and what doesn’t. My critique group wants to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly (well, ugly should be delivered with chocolate).

Respectful approach. We use the “sandwich” technique, in which you get a slice of doughy praise, with some tough-to-swallow but healthy critique meat in the middle, and then another slice of warm, comforting bready positive-vibes goodness. By opening and closing with positive comments, the writer never leaves discouraged but has a well-rounded understanding of how to improve their work.

Support. When one of us has something to celebrate (new agent, illustration in magazine, book deal), we CELEBRATE. But we’ve all been on the other side of that, with tough rejections and heartbreakingly close calls and the dreaded form rejection letter. Between the ups and the downs, we’ve always got something to talk about. And whatever the case, we support each other.

I’m so thankful to know this great group of ladies, and I’m glad we were able to share our collective wisdom.