Virginia Law Manning

Is Your Critique Group Your Support Group?

Virginia ManningComment

I’m a member of four critique groups: two for author-illustrators, one for chapter book authors and one for picture book authors. Sometimes I joke that I’m a glutton for punishment, especially since I prefer critique partners who offer lots of constructive criticism. I even welcome nit-picky feedback because I strongly believe that critique partners need to be critical if they’re going to help me improve my writing.

I’ll even go so far as to say I think it’s dangerous to be in a group and only hear praise of my work, because I don’t want to submit a manuscript before it’s ready. I only have one chance to make a first impression! Now that said, there are times when I find myself gravitating towards one group—the least critical of the four.

This group showers me with compliments. The members are more appreciative of my scribbles than my own mother. Sometimes I want to shake them, yelling “No, tell me what you really think!” But, this is the group I turn to when I’m feeling blue—when I’m questioning if I’ve made any progress or I’m dreading going to a workshop because my illustration will be on display. At those times, their praise, even if it’s unwarranted, is a comforting security blanket.

As critique partners, we need to be sensitive and realize there are times when it’s best to soften our critiques because our partners are at a treacherous juncture in their journey. It’s important to be in a group with writers/illustrators we respect, because if a member wants to quit, we need to prop them up and do whatever we can to prevent that outcome.

Have you heard the statistic that on average it takes a writer 10 years to get a book published? Pretty scary, right? I think one of our jobs as critique partners is to make sure our members stick around for the long haul. After all, you’ve got to be in it to win it. So, take a moment before meetings to get a sense of members’ general spirits and then tailor your discussion to help them at that moment.