When critique groups go bad…

critique_groupsI talk quite a bit about the usefulness of critique groups and why both artists and writers need to seek them out.  From getting feedback to hone your craft, to forging strong relationships with your peers, the benefits of a good critique group are truly endless.

But what if you find yourself in a group that’s not assisting you in your growth? Or maybe you have a great group but have one member that, despite loving nurturing and support, continuously presents work with the same issues? How do you gracefully bow out? How do you let a member know they are not a good fit  while still remaining supportive and positive?

The number one thing to keep in mind as a member of a critique group is that it should be a mutuality beneficial endeavor.  Never feel guilty about leaving a group if you feel it is not a good fit for you.  never feel guilty about removing a member that is causing conflict I give you permission!

To leave a group:

Give the group plenty of notice that you will be moving on. If you can, meet one more time with them and review work for that session.  While it is up to you and the group, I would refrain form sending work to be critiqued for the last session simply because it is not good use of the member’s time to review a piece they are no longer invested in (but that’s just me!).

Be polite.  I can’t stress this enough.  The kid lit business is a relativity small one and you never know who you will cross paths with later that you will need to have “on your side”.

Be honest. It’s OK to be honest (I feel that I’d like to move faster/slower) while remembering point #2!  In other words – make this your issue not the groups (it’s me not you!).


Asking a member to leave is the trickier situation and it’s hard – trust me I’ve been there. Ultimately if you have a member who is not progressing with the pace of the rest of the group after a few months, they’re ultimately doing more harm than good.  Frustration can build when members feel their input is not being heard or being ignored entirely.  This can lead to the struggling member being ostracized or to multiple members leaving to avoid the individual in question.  On the reverse said, some members may simply not be a good fit for the group because they don’t fit into the group culture. So what do you do?

Removing a member from the group (guess what? the steps are the same as leaving a group!):

  1. Give the member plenty of notice that the group feels they are struggling with the current pace and the relationship is not mutually beneficial at this time. Invite the member to come to one last meeting – read their work but don’t ask them to be reciprocal. If the issue is skill, give the member one to three items to focus on (show don’t tell, scene setting, dialogue and so on).  Encourage the member to look for resources (books, websites and so on) to assist them in strengthening the areas that need attention.
  2. Be polite. In addition to the above reasons, keep in mind this may be a difficult situation for the member to be in.  If it is a skill issue, assure the member that we all struggle in the beginning of our process and that any craft has a learning curve. If you feel comfortable in doing so, invite them to rejoin the group again after some time has passed. For those who don’t fit into the group culture, say that.  It is a fair reason to ask someone to leave.
  3. Be honest. Critique groups require honesty, none of us get better by having others pacify us to “spare” our feelings.  Take emotion out of the situation; deal in facts and be honest (while remaining polite) about why the member is being asked to step out at this time.
 Critique group image by Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

About Shelley Koon

Artist and author - visit me at my site listed below.
This entry was posted in Critique Group Tips & Info. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to When critique groups go bad…

  1. Wendy says:

    It’s impossible to predict with 100% accuracy how a new member will fit in a critique group but our face-to-face group has a policy that a new prospective member has to attend one meeting just to meet everyone, then attend one meeting and critique/participate, THEN the group decides whether to offer membership. So far, we have been lucky. 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on Valerie Ormond's Thoughts On… and commented:
    I’m passing this along because it is the only article I’ve seen on this topic. Thank you, Shelley Koon, of SCBWI MD/DE/WV!

  3. mikecrowl says:

    I am a member of a fairly large critique group (It is rumored to have around two dozen members), but I’ve never met most of them. It’s hard to get comfortable with members who come to one or two meetings a year, and don’t really correspond in between. If I could add one more thing… If you’re going to be in a critique group, commit to your fellow members. They are going to bare their souls to you in public, and accept your arrows with a smile. It can be difficult, but it is so much easier when you have committed, friendly members who are supportive. Then it doesn’t hurt so much when they are honest, but polite. The regulars in my group are simply fantastic, and I love working with them.

    I love the Joker cartoon, Shelley!

    • Laura Bowers says:

      Is this the Carroll County branch of Maryland Writer’s you’re talking about, Mike? If so, I’ve been meaning to check it out. And I need to get my rear to this Saturday’s group meet! I’ve only been to one but totally loved it. 🙂

  4. Sue Poduska says:

    Given that our work often feels like our baby, there is much emotion involved. In many cases, polite might need to be kindness. Thanks for these reminders, Shelley.

  5. Pingback: The passing of our Critique Group Coordinator torch! | As the Eraser Burns

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