Finding a critique group that’s good for you is based on one question:
My goal is simple and direct; improve my storytelling and storycrafting/increase my skill levels/learn my craft.
Participants have a month to read and comment on a manuscript. No reading during the group (except for example purposes)
Most of my experience comes from groups like this. The majority of the sessions are devoted to critiquing. Socializing occurs after the critiquing session (although people often bring shareable munchies because the sessions are held in private homes or reserved rooms in libraries, et cetera).
The good is that people have had a month to read, comment, review their comments, come up with solutions to what they consider a problem, …, the negative is that people will get used to your style, genre, et cetera (something I mentioned in Writers Groups – Critiquing Methods – Read ’em and Weep).
Let me share an anecdote to demonstrate this.
I was a member of one such group for a few years. Another participant lived close by so we’d carpool. I’d submitted a 5-6k word piece. On the drive to the group, my carpooling companion commented on my submission.
I stopped him and told him what his comments would be and on what parts of the story he had suggestions/concerns/et cetera. I then told him what part of my story everyone else in the group would comment on and what their comments would be.
How could I know? Didn’t matter, just tell me if I’m mistaken.
On the drive home all he could talk about was how accurate my predictions were.
Long story short, this group stopped working for me. I stopped attending.
The Month Long Read format usually goes with genre specific groups; mystery writers, horror writers, romance writers, et cetera. Genre specific formats are good if you’re starting out. I don’t think they’re good for the seasoned professional. There comes a point where being around your own kind is only going to give you the feedback you’ve heard before.
Continuing the previous anecdote, I left that one genre-specific group for another group, specific to the same genre. Same comments, different people. I left that one, too. The same words from different mouths wasn’t making me a better writer.
At this point in my career, having a genre-mixed group critiquing is far more helpful to me. Mystery writers ask questions sci-fi authors would never think of, romance writers pick up flaws horror writers overlook and YA/MG authors pick up things that’ll amaze you. Of course, we’re now touching on literature or fiction without any genre specificity. If you can get a literature group or pure fiction group to critique your work, go for it. The lift in skills is incredible. My writing coach writes literary fiction. He picked things up in my genre-specific award nominated work that I didn’t know existed!
Variations on a theme
Participants are given manuscripts to critique ahead of time and the author reads a page or two before everyone comments. This format is a variant of the above and I have no clue what the purpose of the author reading a page or two is about or for. To me, it takes up time that could be better spent being critiqued, asking and answering questions and learning one’s craft. But that’s me.
These groups can be great for the first few months if you’re a newcomer of if you attend sporadically (so that no one gets use to your writing). They’re not helpful once you become known.
Next up, Forced Positives/False Positives.