Joining a Critique Group = Living Uncaged

Mary DeMuth—author, speaker and book mentor—publishes a series of “Live Uncaged” posts on her blog where she asks “very cool people five questions about living uncaged.”

In January, she interviewed Thomas Umstattd, owner of Author Media in “Yes even web geeks live uncaged!” This particular question and answer really resonated with me.

Give my readers advice. What’s one practical thing they can do this year to live uncaged? (This can be silly like dancing in the rain or serious like eat more chocolate.)

Find the one little thing that you’ve been avoiding and do it. If you focus on just one little cage bar it is not hard to break. That one little act will bring a small degree of freedom and a large degree of hope. In short, find the one thing in the world you are afraid to do and then do that thing.

In January, my “one little act” of joining a critique group—in spite of the hurdles and resistance—has brought me “a small degree of freedom and a large degree of hope.”

Anatomy of our critique group

I left our fourth critique group meeting yesterday feeling like all was right with the world. It’s taken a while to figure out what will work best for us, but here is the anatomy of our group.

Who: Group members were found via by an organizer who soon stepped down. Another member stepped up to the plate as our leader. Our critique group has solidified with five regular members: serious writers, mostly unpublished. We decided to close the group to additional writers so we could give sufficient time and attention to each other.

What:  A critique group where we are each making ourselves vulnerable to input in order to become better writers.  We are honest but gentle with each other. Each person is seriously investing in each others’ work, coming prepared to each meeting and providing time and thoughtful input.

When: Biweekly meetings, Saturdays, 10am to Noon. It takes 10 minutes to get started, and then each person gets 15-20 minutes of discussion about his or her work in progress.

Why: To become better writers. To make our work publishable. To be part of a writing community. And because it’s fun!!!

Where: Local library study rooms. We’ve learned that libraries only allow you to reserve a room once a month, so we’re going to alternate between libraries in each of our towns or, as a last resort, meet at a noisy Starbucks. Also, libraries have a free internet connection so it’s pretty handy to look up stuff during meetings, if needed.

How:  About a week before our upcoming meeting, we email each other our next chapter. For group members who prefer providing comments by hand, they print out the chapter and mark it up. After discussing the project during the meeting, they hand over the printout to the other writer.

For members who prefer providing comments digitally, they open the file in Microsoft Word, open the “Reviewing” toolbar, and click “Track Changes.” They bring their laptops to the meeting, open the document and discuss, then they email the marked up document to the other writer.

I use my laptop and provide comments digitally. Not only is my printer at home kind of old, but the ink is expensive. I was tempted to print stuff at work, but that’s just plain stealing. It’s also a sustainability thing—less paper, less waste, more green.

I’m also a line-edit kinda girl. I do make global/big picture comments (in terms of character development, plot and structure), but as a former proofreader, I’m easily distracted by formatting, typos and punctuation errors. So far, my fellow members seem to appreciate this—I hope. In fact, yesterday one member said she didn’t mark up grammar and punctuation because she knew I would.  Made me laugh.

Overall, I’m learning so much from the comments of others—not just about my work in progress, but others as well. For example, yesterday I was told I use too many “ly” words, use too many exclamation points, and begin too many sentences with “it.” Ouch! Each member noticed the same thing in the writing of other members, so it made them sensitive when they saw these issues in mine. Good!

In the wise words of a current Crest + Oral B ad campaign (whodathunk that ads can be wise?!):  “Life opens up when you do.”

Leave a comment


  1. Sounds like your group is really coming together nicely! 🙂

    You also might want to check out local bookstores. My group meets at a Barnes & Noble once a week at one of the back tables. B&N is usually very accommodating as they like to have a lot of events taking place in their stores. 🙂

  2. Thanks C.B. The B&N closest to our organizer stopped allowing groups to meet there – I don’t know why. 😦 We’ll have to check out other B&N locations. Thanks for the tip… 🙂

  3. How cool that my post (and Thomas’ words) blessed you to take action.

  4. Mary! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! I’m honored. 🙂 I’m a fan and an avid follower of your blog. Your words have a huge impact on me — please keep ’em coming. 🙂 I am always encouraged and motivated by your posts.

  5. I keep hearing about critique groups. It seems like taking part in one is a healthy thing for writers. I may have to look into finding a local group.

    Did you just change your theme? I like it — it’s the one I use for my writing collection blog (Afternoon Tea).

    • That’s one of the things that got me to finally join a critique group – I kept reading about how critical they are to a writer’s development. So far, so good! But be careful – some folks have had bad experiences. I figure that’s just a hurdle I didn’t have to face this time, thank goodness!

      I did change my theme – like your Tea blog – great minds think alike! Probably should’ve announced that, hmm… The other one was feeling so dark and dreary. Plus I’m having fun with this new font I found – in the header and in the “wisdom squared” quotes. 🙂


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