Fear, Trembling, and the Search for a Critique Group

The War of Art – Visual Summary by Sunni Brown

The War of Art – Visual Summary by Sunni Brown

As a writer, I know I am blind to my own writerly flaws. I love my words, my sentences, my story. I spend so much time with my characters and my plot that I can no longer see the holes.  As I edit, tweak and massage, I reread my words again. I smile. It’s good. It sounds really good to me.

But there is one major problem: I have the curse of knowledge about this world I have created. During the creative process, I tried to pay attention to the rules of plot, tension, conflict, character development, story arc, climax. But I am too subjective. There is no way of knowing I have conveyed this world in a compelling way to my readers.

About my story and my characters, I am an expert. As a writer of novels, I am still very much a beginner.

I kept coming across blog posts and articles about how vital a critique group is to the success of a writer. I finally decided I needed to open myself up for input and criticism if I was ever going to grow. It was time to join a critique group.

Allowing timidity to be my friend, I first limited my search to online critique groups.

The Writer magazine has a directory on their website for independent writing groups. You can search by category, state and zip code. However, I was unable to find an active group in my area.

I explored the online Writer’s Digest Community and there, joined a Fiction Writing group. I read a couple of short pieces, then provided my input. The input was acknowledged. I provided feedback a few more times but just felt no engagement. It was too impersonal. It was also just so big! The ages, abilities, and genres of the writers varied widely. In my exploration, I noticed that one member seemed to swoop in on every writer’s submission and tear their stories to shreds.  I wasn’t about to put my stuff out there for that kind of willy nilly ripping.

A fellow blogger told me about CritiqueCircle.com, but perhaps because of my brief experience on the Writer’s Digest Community, I just couldn’t bring myself to try it out.

I considered finding a critique group on ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), but you have to be a paid member to participate. I’m trying to limit all expenditures right now.

So I began searching online for local writing groups who actually meet face to face. I hit the jackpot when I discovered Meetup.com. Fortunately, there are writing groups galore on there – as well as groups for every other kind of interest (I also joined a local hiking group – but as a lurker. I haven’t showed up even once for their events). The challenge was to find a writing group that wasn’t too far away or too specialized (e.g. fantasy, children’s, etc.).

Finally, last November, I found a fiction writing critique group that met at a restaurant about twenty minutes from my house. The group seemed to be well established and had been meeting weekly for almost a year. I took a deep breath and clicked the “Join us!” button. I RSVP’d for the first meeting which would take place the following Sunday afternoon.

The day came. I chickened out. Me. No show. Not sure what’s happening here, I thought to myself, but I am completely terrified. I can’t go.

The next Sunday, I forced myself to get out of my pajamas and make myself presentable to meet new people. I grabbed my laptop and packed it into my bag, only to pull it out again to double-check the Meetup details. Sure enough, the meeting had been cancelled early that morning because the organizer was ill.

I felt deflated. I had finally sucked up enough courage to go only to hit this road block.

Don’t give up, I thought to myself. You need to do this. Just go next week.

That week, the organizer stepped down as leader of the group. Just like that. She received lots of criticism via comments on the site from existing members for her abrupt departure. No one from the group took her place.

I just shook my head. What this is, I told myself, is Resistance. I had just finished reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Check this out:

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance. Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? …Have you ever wanted to be a mother, a doctor, an advocate for the weak and helpless; to run for office, crusade for the planet, campaign for world peace, or to preserve the environment? Late at night have you experienced a vision of what you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.”

I knew I couldn’t give up yet. I couldn’t let Resistance win.

More about my search for a writing critique group on my next post. 🙂

Leave a comment


  1. Be brave! Critiques aren’t meant to hurt, they are all about gaining perspective. It took me a long time to let go and join in, but I’ve found it to be very liberating. 🙂

    And . . .

    Tag! You’re It! 11 Questions are waiting for you!


    Leave a link in my comments if you decide to play!

  2. So that’s his name … Resistance. He sure gets around.

    I’d like to receive feedback for my writing, too, but I don’t have room in my life right now to join a live group. Instead, I’ve been posting some of my work and requesting helpful comments. I also feel the same about Writer’s Digest — too big. Hoping your next post provides some answers!

    FYI, the Santa Barbara Writers Conference date for this year is June 9-14. The cost is beyond my means, so I’m going to ask about scholarships.

    • He sure does. Grrrr.

      Found your Afternoon Tea blog with your writing samples! Just subscribed. Will check it out. 🙂

      Speaking of conferences… Do you live in California? Perhaps check out the Orange County Christian Writers Conference, May 18-12 in Newport Beach. I can’t find the price – I think won’t be available until they get the registration page up… But last year it was $295 for 2 days, $190 for 1 day. I wasn’t able to go, but I discovered two of my favorite writing authors/coaches: Vinita Hampton Wright and Mary DeMuth, who were both speakers last year. Check out my post: http://nataliesharpston.com/2011/04/30/new-writer-no-money-how-you-can-get-something-out-of-writer%E2%80%99s-conferences-without-attending/

      • Oops – here’s the link for the conference:

      • I live in Santa Barbara, that’s why I’m thinking about that particular conference. I read your “New Writer, No Money” post. Do most conferences expect/require attendees to have a completed manuscript or other samples of their work? I’d be attending more for obtaining knowledge than for submitting my work. That’s probably the draw, though — lots of published authors, agents, company reps, in one place.

      • Hi Darla. I don’t think it’s a requirement to have completed work in hand, but I think conference organizers expect it. Personally, because of the expense involved, I’m planning on waiting until I have a polished manuscript before I attend a conference in order to get the most for my investment; e.g. face to face time with editors, agents, publishers. I would love to go just for the educational value, though! Sigh. Just need a little more disposable income. Don’t we all. 🙂

      • I’ll let you know how it goes with my scholarship inquiry. I’m pretty sure I won’t have a manuscript by then, but here’s hoping that won’t disqualify me!

      • I’ll be curious to know how it turns out! Wanted to be sure I add… I am by no means an authority on the subject! When I say conference planners expect it, I mean they provide it in their offerings… Hopefully that makes sense. 🙂

  1. Courage, Tenacity, and the Discovery of a Critique Group « Natalie Sharpston

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