Clues Your Critique Group is Going TOXIC

by Edie Melson

I’m a big fan of having a writing support team. I know I’m a
much better writer because I have a small group of writers I exchange critiques
with. I believe there are very few writers who produce high quality work in a
vacuum. These groups may be set up formally, with specific meeting dates and
times. Or they may be less structured.
But occasionally the dynamics change, and today I want to
share some clues your critique group is going toxic. These are warning signs
that not addressed, may destroy valuable relationships forever.
One caveat before I begin, although I have been in
situations where these have happened, they haven’t all happened to me
personally. And, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve unintentionally been the perpetrator
of a couple of these. We need to be as vigilant about our own motives and
actions as we are of others.
Symptoms of a Toxic Critique
1. The critique becomes personal. If someone is attacking
you, with comments that cross the line, beware. Comments may include, “You
really don’t know how to write, do you?”
2. The volume level gets loud. This one gets me
occasionally. I’m passionate about writing, and although I try, sometimes I
make people uncomfortable with how loud I get. I don’t mind this one (probably
because I tend to be confrontational at times) but I’ve learned to respect how
it comes across to others.
3. The person who argues with every suggestion. I’m the
first person to stand up for an author’s rights. I believe you are the master
of your story. But none of us is right one hundred percent of the time. I’m
perfectly happy if you decide not to accept my suggestions, but if you’re going
to argue with every single one then we’re both wasting valuable time.
4. There’s nothing positive shared. I’m a big fan of the
sandwich critique. In this method, I share something positive about the
manuscript, then something that may need work, followed by something else
positive. Let’s face it, critiques are difficult enough without it always being
all about what someone is doing poorly. And this one leads me to number 4.
5. Frequent use of the word WRONG. In the publishing
industry there are lots of gray areas, and very few hard and fast rules.
Grammar is where you find most of the rules, but even those may be broken, if
there’s a compelling reason. When someone tells you something is wrong, it’s a
clue that there are deeper issues involved.
6. More talk ABOUT writing than actual words produced. If
you find yourself in a group where all you do is encourage each other to
overcome life and sit down and write, you’re not in a critique group, you’ve
morphed into a support group. There’s nothing wrong with support, we all hit
times when life gets the better of us. But be careful if it’s happening every
week.
7. The person I like to call the, FOOD CRITIC. This is the
one member who has all the answers, but almost never brings anything to be
evaluated.

8. A lack of respect. This can show up in 3 main ways.

  • Those who are habitually late and/or don’t let the group
    know when they can’t make a scheduled meeting (online or off).
  • It can also be seen when the one giving the critique tries
    to force the writer to make changes. No matter how good I think my advice is,
    ultimately the manuscript belongs to the one who’s writing it. I have to learn
    to respect that and move on.
  • The final one is a variation of the argumentative person seen in number 3 above.
    But this disrespectful person has a superior attitude about every suggestion made. The
    attitude is one of, “I hear you, but I’d never take advice from the likes of
    you.” Their demeanor drips with the resolve to be nice, but with obvious
    undertones of I’m better and we both know it.
Our industry is a living and growing entity. It’s changing
almost daily, especially with the advent of ebooks and digital publishing. What
used to be a rule, now is a viewed as a quaint tradition. To stay relevant, we
NEED to band together. It’s a huge advantage to connect with others who are
seeking to grow and put out the best possible product we can at a given moment
in time. 

So if you’ve seen some of these symptoms, don’t hesitate to address them. A little diligence now can save a valuable relationship. Now, I’m curious. What symptoms would you add to
this list of toxic symptoms? 



Edie Melson is the author of four books, as well as a freelance editor with years of experience in the publishing industry. Her popular blog, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands of writers each month, and she’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Her bestselling ebook on social media has just been updated and re-released as Connections: Social Media & Networking Techniques for Writers. She’s the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy and the social media director for Southern Writers Magazine. You can connect with Edie through Twitter and Facebook.