Marina’s Notes from Amber Keyser’s How to Use a Critique Group

Writing is a solitary thing, but a writer’s life doesn’t have to be solitary. Use a critique group to bring a piece to it’s full potential.

How to give a good critique:

1)    Read the whole piece once through

2)    Ponder, leave time to think about your overall reaction to the piece

3)    Read the piece again, making notes throughout the story

4)    Organize an overview, outlining the most important point

5)    Use the sandwich technique, say something good, something that needs improvement, then another thing you liked.

6)    Spend time critiquing, critiquing other writers will help you learn more about your own writing technique and help you improve.

7)    Think like a doctor: symptoms, diagnosis, cure (and do no harm)

8)    List stories that you were reminded of when you read the piece

9)    Think of the audience

10) Think about what ideas are not parallel

11) Who, what, when, where, why and how

12) Critique the plot, characters, setting, them, and the rising and falling action arc

*Remember: to criticize: to list faults, to critique: to analyze what works and what does not work, and why, and to offer solutions


On a slip of paper, write down the worst thing you can imagine someone saying about your writing.

Now think about this: a piece is never all bad, anyone who tells you that is wrong

“I am not afraid of critique” –The Writer’s Book of Hope

Characteristics of a good critique group:

  • Similar time commitment to craft
  • Knowledge of conventions of the genre
  • Safe and fun atmosphere
  • Mutually agreed upon structure
  • Respect
  • Commitment to helping others do their best possible work
  • No “odd ducks,” no person that doesn’t seem to fit in
  • No competitiveness

Benefits of a critique group:

  • Different perspectives
  • Motivation
  • Whole new idea/layer
  • Improve craft
  • Redirection
  • Learn what doesn’t work
  • Compare Art process
  • Learn about helpful resources
  • Good Contacts
  • You  can go to conferences together (making them much more fun)
  • Plan retreats (which can lead to a surge of productivity)
  • Validation/encouragement/support when you’re discouraged
  • Legitimizes your work
  • Helps you through writers block
  • Keeps you accountable
  • Ideas for workshops

Receiving good critiques is useful, but giving them is better

Some good Books:

  • Art and Fear: an operating manual for not quitting by David Bayless and Ted Orland
  • Reading like a Writer By Francine Prose)
  • On Writing Well by William K. Zinsser

Example group meeting


Set boundaries

  • Your work is not you
  • Ask for what you want up front


  • Listen carefully and write notes
  • Clarification
  • Say thank you, rather than explaining and protecting your work, let your work speak for itself


  • Take time to think it through
  • Take comments seriously: if it doesn’t work for them, it doesn’t work
  • Writing is a craft, it takes practice

How to start your own: Things to consider

  • How often?
  • Where?
  • When should the manuscripts be submitted?
  • How will the critiques be given?
  • How big a group? (Ours works to have about 7)
  • Can the author speak?
  • Are interruptions okay?
  • Written comments?
  • Emailed comments?
  • How do you deal with new members?
  • Allow re-submissions?
  • Limits on manuscripts?
  • What Genres?

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