Many critique groups are small, with four to six dedicated writers or illustrators meeting regularly to share and comment on each others’ work. In a small group, each member has the opportunity to submit at each meeting, and critiquers can discuss their reactions at length. A high level of trust develops as members get to know each other over many months. A small critique group is a safe, familiar, cozy place to develop your work.
Our critique group, the one that blogs here at Writers’ Rumpus, averages 15 to 20. By agreement with the library that hosts us, we are always open to newcomers. Each member comes up on the critique rotation only four or maybe five times a year. Almost every monthly meeting brings a new visitor, so there’s a good chance that your work in progress will be seen by someone you’ve only just met.
Yet most of our members, established and new, stick around for many months—quite a few have been in the group for years. I’ve sometimes asked myself, why do I keep running this huge, often boisterous, always-open critique group? Because I’ve discovered that big and open have their benefits.
Lots of opinions: You may get to submit your work only a few times a year, but when you do, you receive a dozen or more different perspectives. Opinions don’t always agree, and that’s the point—the variety gives you more ideas to choose from for improving your work.
Lots of data points: You know the rule of thumb that if more than one person comments on a particular aspect of your work, then maybe you should pay attention? If 10 out of 12 reviewers make the same comment, you know you’d better pay attention.
Lots of expertise: Who knew that chinchillas take dust baths? Or that raindrops have to grow big enough before they can fall? The larger the group, the more knowledge it contains, and the more likely it is that someone else will know something that’s relevant to your work.
Reliability: With double-digit membership the group always meets. Half the group is away in August? No problem—eight members can still make it, and some of them will be thrilled to submit their work in place of those who are away.
New members: New members bring energy and fresh perspectives to the group. A newly-inspired writer or illustrator can revive members whose enthusiasm may be flagging. A new reviewer hasn’t seen the previous three drafts of a submission and sees only what is there now, not what went before.
Spinoff potential: You get to know a lot of other writers and illustrators in a big group—enough to start a smaller group to focus on a particular area. Our group has spawned at least three spinoffs, each with a particular interest: illustration, picture books, and YA novels.
Community: Writing and illustrating are lonely crafts. Rejections hurt. Self-doubt can paralyze. Enter the big critique group: A place to ask questions, discuss answers, share experiences, and find someone to proofread your query before you hit send. A place to believe in each other’s efforts and to celebrate each other’s successes. Well, okay—I guess all of this happens in small groups, too. But a big group has more people to divide the sorrows and multiply the joy.
I also belong to a small online critique group, and there are definite advantages to a smaller size. But I hope to enjoy the benefits of this big group for many years to come.
Member Joyce Audy Zarins has also posted about our group on her blog, Constructions.
Thanks to member Nancy Goulet of studiowink for these photos.
Do you belong to a critique group? Do you think there’s an optimal size for a critique group?
This is a good summary of the “rumpus” we are in. Yes, I do find that the big group gets the prize for maximizing the number of red pen comments per submission. Those multiple views can really be enlightening, albeit scary at times.
And I too have taken full advantage of the spin-offs. I am in the Novel group along with four other critiquers and am in another separate novel group that you also are familiar with. That’s about the most I find possible if I am to give good, thoughtful feedback.
Each group has its own personality, which is certainly advantageous. I find that when you are at the helm, Marianne, the group is well moderated and fun. Keep up the good work!
I’m not sure about optimal, because there are positive and negatives for both big and small groups. I do like the ability to get a lot of feedback, but I also like a smaller group where I can submit more regularly. But that’s why I’ve joined more than one group…I can have it all!
Critique groups are essential to my writing process.