Could a critique group be for you?

Annie Neild

A face-to-face critique group in action
"Find a good critique group,” is a piece of advice that is often given in books about writing and getting published. The suggestion is that if you’re serious about your craft, you ought to consider joining a critique group. So, what’s all the fuss about?

“I think critique groups are one of the most important writing tools,” says SCBWI member Justyna Golebiowski. “Having valuable feedback and suggestions from other writers who are not only writing and learning themselves, but who are unbiased too.”

Submitting your work for a critique can be daunting, but if you’re keen to develop your writing style or you’re at an impasse with a particular text, you may decide it’s worth the leap of faith. After all, sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for the trees. The objective comments of a critique group can help a writer regain valuable perspective. “Often I know there’s something wrong with my text and can’t quite put my finger on it,” says Alex English, journalist and picture book author. “A fresh pair of eyes makes all the difference.”

“A fresh pair of eyes makes all the difference.”

Most of us would agree it’s preferable to have the flaws in a text pointed out by a fellow writer than by an agent or editor. Nonetheless, be prepared for a full and honest assessment. “We stress to all new members that we’re a group whose members like constructive criticism, so the discussion is often pretty frank,” says Ruth Hatfield, co-founder of the Cambridge Writers writing for children group, “but always with the emphasis on making practical suggestions about possible edits, rather than just giving personal reactions.”

Since detailed, practical advice can be hard to come by when you’re trying to get published (or find an agent), joining a strong critique group is akin to tapping into a rich vein of constructive criticism. If your group shares work regularly it can be time-consuming to submit and comment each month, but you may well find that your critiquing commitments are absorbed naturally into your writing routine. Alice Hemming, who is published by Maverick Arts, says of her SCBWI online critique group: “I feel the group has really helped improve my writing and it now forms an essential part of my writing practice: I write a draft, show my husband, write another draft, post to Eureka!, edit and polish, then submit or shelve for a while.”

Cake always helps!

Although a critique group that discusses a broad range of genres, or sub-genres, has much to offer, it can also be helpful to find other writers working within your specific field or age-range. SCBWI BI has established, and manages, a range of these niche groups using a blog-based format. Alice describes the benefits of this kind of set-up: “Everyone in the group is a picture book writer, which is great. We all understand the importance of finding exactly the right word, getting the page turns just right and finding the right balance with our illustration notes.”

The online format of groups like EUREKA! engenders a different feel to a face-to-face collective. Online groups may occasionally meet-up in person, but members often live hours apart - even in different countries - so it’s not always possible. The general consensus seems to be that it doesn’t matter. “I was worried that an online group wouldn’t have the same synergy that happens with a face-to-face group,” comments Patty Toht, who also belongs to EUREKA!, “but surprisingly that still happens.”

Honorary attendees welcome

The synergy of a critique group can take time to develop. Trust is key, and once that trust has been established, space opens up for broader discussions between members. Experiences are shared, advice is sought and given freely, and achievements are celebrated. One SCBWI author describes the other members of her group as ‘supportive friends’. This is where the added value of a critique group lies. For many writers, published and unpublished, these groups offer support, friendship and camaraderie. They can be a crucial source of inspiration and creativity, as well as of constructive feedback. Writing is often a lonely experience and it can make all the difference to share your highs and lows with someone who understands exactly what you’re going through. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, joining a critique group could be the best thing you’ll ever do.

Annie Neild is an unpublished picture book author. She joined SCBWI in 2012 and is a member/ moderator of their online picture book critique group, EUREKA! Annie has also been part of the Cambridge Writers writing for children group since 2010.


  1. I joined SCBWI at the end of March and by July I'm a member and moderator of a new YA critique group: BackachYA.

    We've been afloat a month so it's early days, but the feedback has been good.

    I agree that commenting on work should be incorporated into your writing process. You don't want it to be a chore. I'm making positive changes to my work so this has been the right move for me.

  2. Thank you Annie for a really well researched feature on the the enormous benefit of belonging to a critique group. It's interesting to read about EUREKA and it's an important reminder that the groups do take time to gel.

  3. Great feature, Annie! I would be lost without my critique group!

  4. Brilliant feature, Annie! I love the way you've explored all options here. My nearest face-to-face crit group is too far away so I've joined Debbie's online BackachYA group instead. So far, so good!


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