Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Epic Critique Groups, FNC Style

The FNC has been critiquing for two years now, and we think we’ve learned a thing or two about what makes an Epic Critique Group. Because I’m feeling a little backwards today, I’m presenting our Very Serious and Impressive Lessons via examples of toxic critique partners.

The Militant Leader
“I don’t care that your grandma died. We’re supposed to bring stuff to EVERY SINGLE MEETING. Do you think editors will care if your grandma died?”
- Crit groups should push you to produce work. Part of their job is keeping you motivated. But sometimes, life is more important than writing.

The Constant Cheerleader
“This was really good. Really good.”
- Gee, thanks, now I have an ego the size of Alaska and no way of knowing that, despite how “really good” it is, my entire chapter 10 has no point.

The Crosser of The Line
“I just wasn’t feeling this scene, so I rewrote it to show you what I think it should look like.”
- Two words: back off. Each writer has an individual voice, and your way isn’t necessarily the best. Suggestions for a specific line are fine. “Your way” for an entire scene is violating the critiquer code.

The Negative Nancy
“Your chapter sucks.”
- Throw this critiquer in the corner with the Constant Cheerleader. Harshly pointing out every single error and giving no suggestions for improvement = awful.

The Faux-Critiquer
“I really meant to read your stuff when you sent it two weeks ago, but I didn’t have time again. I’m completely swamped at work, my boss is ridiculous, and I got fifteen new projects dumped on me…”
- This person wants to critique your work, but they never seem to find time for it. This is poison to a critique group, especially when you spend an hour carefully writing out comments for them. Occasionally, there really isn’t time in life, but the Faux-Critiquer is a repeat offender.

The Absentee
“Hey everyone. There was a last-minute sale on plasma TVs, so I can’t make it. Have fun!”
- Close personal friend of the Faux-Critiquer, the Absentee ditches at the eleventh hour. So I spent my valuable time reading your submission, but you didn’t show? Thanks.

The Nitpicker
“I don’t know if you should have the word “the” here. Maybe it should be “this.””
- The Nitpicker not only harps on every little thing, but he/she also sucks up valuable time from everyone in the crit group. The obsessive hemming and hawing has its place – right before the writer is ready to send to agents, not in the initial drafts. And please—keep it in small doses.

The All-or-Nothing-er
“If you don’t cut that character, I don’t know how to help you.”
- Gotta love an ultimatum. The All-or-Nothing-er doesn’t understand that they do not get to make the big decisions for your novel. (They can hang with the Crosser of The Line.) And when you do disagree with a “suggested” change, they refuse to work with you any further.

Alright, there’s the FNC’s list of toxic critique partners. Is there one poisoning your writing? I hope not! If there is, you need to sit down for a serious conversation. Sometimes you just have to kick 'em to the curb -- like friendships or romantic relationships, it's important to find someone you really click with, and it's a waste of your time to force something that just isn't working out.

So what makes a great critiquer? Well, anyone who doesn't fit into any of those categories is probably golden. The Epic Critique Group centers on honesty, support, common goals, equal effort, and trust. That's what the FNC is for me -- epic. They give me the warm and fuzzies because I know that they have my best interests at heart. Could a novelista ask for anything more?

[Heck yes. They're Epic.]

FNC Recommended Reading:
BookEnds, LLC's thoughts on the benefits of a critique group
KT Literary's open-ended discussion on critique groups
Natalie Whipple's blog post "Get Thee to a Crit Group"

Also, Writer's Digest is creating a critique group registry. If you complete this form, you'll receive a free digital copy of THE WRITING & CRITIQUE GROUP SURVIVAL GUIDE by Becky Levine.

Any toxic critiquer titles to add to the list? We want to hear all about your exceptional/awful critique group experiences. Do you have any advice for giving or receiving critiques?


  1. Great post, Donna. Made me chuckle and feel very warm and fuzzy about our little group. Love you guys--for all your encouragement and for your kicks in the pants!

  2. Oh I've met ALL of these critiquers, and a few more too boot. Personally, after three years of a writing course I'm still no closer to a complete understanding of what makes a good critiquer. Someone who pays attention and has read a lot of your project, not just one or two scenes, is good for a start.

  3. Great Post!

  4. great information - I know a few of these people in general.

  5. This is interesting how you've organized these problems into groups most writers can relate to.

  6. Great post! I'm dying to find a good crit group, either online or in person.

    And I might have one to add to your list...The Lazy Lucy. This is the critiquer who hands you back your work and after going through pages and pages looking for comments, you find three corrections in an entire 50 page smaple. No comments, or any feedback, just punctuation. This person probably only skimmed the ms and found a few random places to add a comma or fix a typo so it would look like they read it.

  7. This post is awesome *scratch that*, it is skillful and well-formed *I border on the Constant Cheerleader*. :)
    Everyone has their reasons for acting the way they do, but this list can go even beyond literary criticism to apply to the way people relate to each other in general.
    May I request another list: the ways that people RESPOND to criticism. It can hurt the way that, when you're being politely helpful someone becomes prickly= the handling-with-kid-gloves Lamby. Or the person who just blathers their justification for what they did instead of actually listening to what you're saying= the Reactionary Rambo.
    Hahaha, these aren't good names, but you get the idea. Thanks for this list!

  8. Critiquing is an art. We're still learning how to do it the right way. Sometimes I think critiquing takes more knowledge and skill than writing!

  9. Can we add the Non-writer to the list? A friend asked to read my book for enjoyment, then contacted me a day later suggesting revisions--AND volunteered to be my editor. (I told him too that I have betas, so read for fun) Ack!


  10. Love this list. I've been in groups with all of the above, and then some (thus my fear of critique groups). Thanks for the laugh--and the excellent post (as always). :)


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