To Be or Not To Be in a Critique Group

With a nod to Shakespeare, the question is whether to be in a critique, or writers, group or not. Personally, I find them helpful. I’m in one with three other women who are writing novels and one woman who writes non-fiction. I am profoundly grateful to these talented writers and insatiable readers for their advice and constructive criticism.

This isn’t the first group I’ve been in. In the late 1980s, when I was writing an historical novel, I started my own. It wasn’t very successful (one of our men wanted only to write book titles) and didn’t last long. After that, I took creative writing classes at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center with Carol Lee Lorenzo, a published author who really started me on the road to good fiction writing. She offered both a classroom setting and a critique group setting. Frankly, I favored her advice over her student writers. Around 2000, I was invited to a friend’s house to participate in a Zona Rosa writing workshop with author Rosemary Daniell. From that group of about 15 aspiring writers, probably half of us formed a writers group. It eventually fell apart, too, and I ended up in my current group.

The Inklings met regularly at The Eagle and Child, Oxford.

The Inklings met regularly at The Eagle and Child, Oxford.

Writers groups  have proliferated in the last 15 to 20 years. However, one of the first dates back to the mid 20th century. The Inklings, an informal literary discussion group associated with the University of Oxford, England, operated between the early 1930s and late 1949. Its regular members included J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. While members read their novels to each other, it wasn’t actually a serious writers group. Other popular groups in the 20th century were Shakespeare and Company, the Algonquin Round Table, and the Bloomsbury Group, which were really more social gatherings for authors and supportive of the arts.

Daily Diversions for Writers by Debbie Ohi

Daily Diversions for Writers
by Debbie Ohi

The Atlanta Writers Club (AWC) lists several critique groups in the Atlanta metro area and includes an online group. Check out the website, www.awc.org, for more information.  Last year, George Weinstein, a long-time board member, published Hardscrabble Road, a novel about a boy growing up in South Georgia during the Depression. Weinstein was in a group with four other writers when he wrote his book.  “They helped me make my dialogue sound more realistic, pointed out where a scene rambled or missed an emotional opportunity, and called out places where my characters were two-dimensional or acted out of character without sufficient reason.”  However, Weinstein has a word of caution. He says, “Beware of a lone individual’s opinion. Listen when several or more give the same advice or make the same observation about one’s work. Sometimes the lone person will be correct and the group will be wrong, but the opposite is true far more often.” He also advises that readers can be another good source of critique about a book. “Readers seldom steer me wrong,” he says.

My own group does more than critiquing. We share books, as well as any information we find on literary events, agents, and writing retreats. When I discovered the AWC and became a member, I told my fellow writers. Two of them joined, and we all have attended the AWC writers’ conferences. From them, I learned about the Hambidge Center in Rabun Gap, Ga., where these same two women bury themselves in their writing at least once a year.  Here’s a portrait of my critique/writers group:

Charlene Ball: She’s writing a novel about Emelia Lanier, a 16th writer rumored to be the alluring “dark lady” who was Shakespeare’s lover.

Libby Ware: She has written a book about an intersexed woman living in western Virginia in the 1930s about the same time plans begin for building the Blue Ridge Parkway. While looking for an agent for this book, she’s working on another book set during and after the Civil War. One of her characters, a slave girl during the war, is a minor character in the first book.

Valerie Fennell:

Her book, which takes place in the 1950s, explores people’s lives in a North Carolina coastal town while also delving into the drowning of a boy.

Linda Bell: A former college professor of philosophy, she has published five books on existentialism and feminism, including Visions of Women, Overcoming Racism and Sexism and Beyond the Margins: Reflections of a Feminist Philosopher.  

I’m writing a mystery set in 1067 England, while also looking for an agent to represent my first book in a trilogy about the life and adventures of Harold Godwinson, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England.

I am also fortunate to live with a writer. Both of us occasionally critique each other’s work. The value of having other people, especially writers and readers, critique my work is that they hear or see what I have missed. They help me clarify and find mistakes. They bring out my best.

For another opinion, check out 4 Horseman of the Relationship Apocalypse—Want Them for Members of Your Writing Community? by Jan O’Hara. If you’re looking for a critique group in Georgia, visit our Georgia Literary Events page, which lists several groups as well as writers’ retreats.

Are you currently in a writers/critique group? How have they helped your writing? 

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