You choose a group as much as the group chooses you. Here are some guidelines to think about when choosing a critique group:
Does the group have a clearly defined goal, preferably in writing?
Can the group state what they want from the critiquing process, verbally or in writing?
This can be as simple as, “we want to see something new from each writer at each meeting,” or as elaborate as a mission statement. However, if the members of the group haven’t taken the time to define their purpose, they probably don’t know where they are going, and neither will you.
An example of a goal statement: Our main goal is to help each other get published. We will do this by presenting and participating in workshops, by reading and critiquing each other’s work and by encouraging each other to submit finished works. We also provide networking, contacts with professionals in the field and a chance to meet other local talents with similar interests.
Does the group have any interest in the type of writing you want to do?
Some YA or middle grade writers may not be interested in picture books or vice versa. It is important to make sure there is interest in your genre.
Do the group members arrive and get to work, or does everyone just stand around and talk about writing?
Pretty early in the meeting, everyone should start moving toward the chairs. Manuscript pages should start appearing along with pens and notepads. The group should not spend more than a half hour hanging out and talking. (Most writers’ experience is that you start out being very formal with a time-keeper and a fixed rotation on who goes first, etc. then become relaxed as the group begins to gel.)
Are there rules for individuals being critiqued and the critiquers?
Talk about the work, not the person. You are the reader–what questions do you have for the writer about the story? For example: Critiquing the writing never starts with: “You are”… or “You should” instead: “The writing is …” or “The story could . . .”
It is not helpful to say: “This is how I would write it …” How you would write it isn’t the point.
Remember the subject matter is personal. You don’t have to like the story to give it a fair critique.
Gauge your own feelings. If you leave the group meeting feeling more energized and challenged, then the group may be a good fit. If you leave feeling devastated and wanting to quit writing or do not feel like you received helpful feedback, perhaps it may be helpful to try other groups.
(Kind thanks to Holly Lisle: Writer “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, or How to choose a Writers Group”.)