To Crit or not to Crit

Should writing be a solitary endeavour? Caroline Deacon suggests it can take a village to grow a book.

Maybe the actual pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, is something best done alone, but in order for your scribblings to turn into something which other people will be desperate to read, you’re going to need feedback. Even long established, successful writers want and need input from an experienced editor. A published book is a collaborative effort.

But if you’re not yet at the stage of having a full time editor waiting to tear apart your manuscript, where do you go for help? The crit group.

How to find a critique group

SCWBI critique groups are your obvious first choice. Some are willing to work remotely with members, others work online, so don't let meeting times or geography put you off enquiring. If SCWBI won’t work for you, then look for other writers’ groups; online, via your library, bookshop or local arts organisations. Why not start one yourself if all else fails?

What to expect

Crit groups vary in format, but do check if there is an established format. Without it the group will become a social meet-up. Ground-rules are important as well, and it helps to have a co-ordinator.
There should be a maximum word length for submissions, depending on how many people come, how long the group meets for, and whether everyone gets critiqued every time. A well established novel group might choose to focus just on one person each time, but this is unlikely to work in newer groups. Most circulate work in advance (though not all). If it’s a large group, it may split into sub-groups so everyone gets a reasonable amount of attention. There is no ideal size: You want people to know each other and trust each other, but then if not everyone attends every time, or has work to present, a small group could flounder.

SE Scotland SCWBI MG group meeting at Waterstones. Image Credit: Caroline Deacon

At the group

In order for all participants to receive feedback, someone should time keep. When offering feedback:

• Be specific.
• Say what you enjoyed about the piece as well as suggesting improvements.
• Don’t focus on grammar and punctation mistakes - just make a note on the manuscript to give to the writer afterwards.
• Try to avoid repeating what has already been said, although it’s helpful for the writer to hear when you agree with any points made.
• It can work well if the writer doesn’t speak until everyone has given their feedback; after all you’re not going to be there to tell your readers what you really meant!
• Bear in mind people will want and need to chat - so build in time for that before or afterwards.

When to avoid critique groups

Remember that you’re not going to there to be praised, so if you’re not ready to hear feedback, don’t go. It’s not always the right time. When you are just starting a new piece of work, sometimes criticism can kill it dead. Only go when you’re ready and willing to take on board feedback.

*Featured image: from left to right Claire Watts, Caroline Deacon, Elizabeth Frattoli and Rachel Davidson. Image credit: Moira McPartlin

Caroline Deacon is a journalist and author now writing fiction. She runs a SCWBI critique group in Edinburgh.


A. M. Dassu
is a member of the Words & Pictures editorial team, she manages the Events team and SCBWI BI events coverage.
Contact her at

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article, and lovely to spot some friendly SCBWI faces, too! Well done Caroline and Words and Pictures Team!


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