Why Read & Critique?

It’s my time at writing group next week and the story I’m revising isn’t anywhere near ready for its turn at the table. Guess how I’m going to spend my weekend.


I joined a writing group again last winter after not participating in one as a writer/reader for quite a while. I’d been leading read and critique groups for several years, but when three of the six writers in my current group finished their novels at the same time, and another wanted to take a hiatus, the group was left with only two actively writing members. But instead of keeping the group going by recruiting new members, I wanted to be in a writing group myself. It had been too long and I knew I needed help in revising my novel.

As you probably know, I love writing groups of all kinds, and read and critique writing groups have served me well over the years. I’ve been a member of several, both leader-run and peer-run, and I believe a R&C group, or at least a few really good readers, are a necessary and vital part of the sometimes long process of going from idea and, draft-by-draft, to finished project.

R&C 1

In my book, Writing Alone, Writing Together, I created a checklist for “Why Read and Critique.” Here’s what it says:

Because you can never hear your work for the first time
Because you can never be totally objective
Because you lose perspective after a while
Because you can never know how your work will affect readers
Because reading your work to an audience changes it for you
Because different listeners/readers have different reactions to the same words
Because you can learn from other writers’ reactions as well as their comments
Because it can bring up questions you didn’t know to ask
Because it can help you pinpoint problems you sense, but cannot identify
Because your intuition will be confirmed and you’ll learn to trust yourself more
Because it can help you to separate yourself from your work
Because it helps you develop your own critical sense

What I would add now is:
Because reading and critiquing someone else’s work helps you identify problems in your own writing.
Because being part of a group is a way of supporting other writers.

R&C 3

OK. Back to the desk for me. What about you. Are you in a writing group? How has read and critique served your writing?

8 thoughts on “Why Read & Critique?

  1. I totally agree with you. I’ve been in two separate R & C groups working on two different drafts of my novel. The members taught and supported me so much. I will be forever grateful to them.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jill. And it’s obvious from the success and critical acclaim for your novel, The Black Velvet Coat, that all that work paid off for you and for the book.

  2. Good for you for joining a group again. I am ready to do the same…any suggestions?

    I took creative writing classes at Mira Costa years ago and my writing teacher, Enid Norman, was excellent. I also took a poetry class with Linda Brown and was inspired to write more.


    • Thanks for your comment, Arlene. Yes, writing classes, too. Many a writing group begins with writers who met in a class somewhere.

  3. I belonged to a writing critique group over 10 years ago and it literally died off – as in two of the five members were quite old and passed away. Another moved away and there we were, just two of us. Reduced to two, it highlighted that we had such disparate writing styles and genre we really couldn’t find a common bond and the group dissolved.

    I think this is another aspect of a writing group to consider. IMHO, the ability to relate to another’s writing and compatibility are among the most important considerations. You may write different genres, but authentic critiques from writers you respect will allow you to reflect honestly on your own writing.

    I would love to find another writing group. It can be an exhilarating experience to move your own work forward by collaborating with others in an honest, supportive environment.

    • Thanks for your comment, Deborah. I know many writing groups welcome mixed genre writers, but I, too, prefer writers working in the same, or at least related, genres. I don’t know that my critique would be helpful to someone writing a children’s picture book, for example. I wouldn’t even know how to offer critique. I’ve mostly been in groups that include novelists, short fiction writers, memoirists, and creative nonfiction (emphasis on “creative,” rather than journalistic).

      I hope you find another writing group. Though I prefer “live,” I know there are many opportunities online, too. Good luck.

  4. Support is crucial to a writer even if its online. Not everyone in our life understands the need to write. Even someone as independent as this writer cuddles up inside when someone comes along and sounds supportive.

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