Frankly, unless you are invited to a well-established critique group with at least some of the writers at your level, you might need to start a group of your own. Groups have certain dynamics, and they function with rules, both spoken and unspoken. Adhere to the guidelines, allowing three or four meetings to adjust. But if you don't like the fit, don't feel like you've failed. Try others. And when all else fails, advertise that you are starting your own.
In my seven years of critique group interaction, I can say I've learned the following about making a critique group work to my benefit:
1. Bring work to each meeting. Be an active participant. People learn from what you've written as much or more than they learn from being critiqued. If you critique online, rule of thumb is to critique two for every one you submit. But check each group's rules.
2. Critique with sincerity. Some members are afraid to give serious feedback for fear of hurting feelings. Don't be the reviewer in the group who hands back a paper with no marks on it. That's so frustrating to the person being reviewed. He doesn't know if you didn't like it, didn't like him, or don't know what you are doing. Whatever he thinks can only be a negative reflection on you.
3. Pick one or two items to critique. Unless you are allowed to take your time at home with someone's submission, choose your strong suits. Pick grammar, flow, characterization, word usage, dialogue or whatever you feel most skilled at reviewing, and focus on it. In one of my critique groups, we read aloud while the others follow along making notes. You can't cover everything in 10-15 minutes, so give the submitter your best.
4. Lead with positive, address the shortcomings, finish with a strong positive. Saying a piece is all good or all bad is wrong. Writers have to grow from accolades and correction to find their true voice and refine their storytelling technique.
Where to find critique groups near you, or at least how to find other writers who might join yours:
- Your state writers organization.
- Local chapters of professional writers organizations.
- Your library.
- Coffee shops / cafes.
- Church halls.
- Community recreation centers.
- Community colleges / universities.
www.yahoogroups.com (search for writers group, writing group or critique group)
www.googlegroups.com (search for writers group, writing group or critique group)
Everyone needs feedback. Nothing and nobody gets stronger without resistance.
One final word of advice. . . ask other writers who their critique partners are or where they meet. Many writers don't broadcast who's in their circle, but don't mind inviting you if they know you're seeking a home.