Top Tips on Forming Your Own Writers Group

 Top Tips on Forming Your Own Writers Group

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I really can’t stress enough the importance of my writer’s critique group. My crit buddies are more than professional colleagues. They are also very close friends. But forming your own writer’s group from scratch can be tricky.

1 Nominate a leader

A group needs to be organised and led by a named individual. One way of ensuring that the group is led by the right person (ie someone you has the same ideas as you) is to become the leader yourself. However the leader should not be a dictator. Just because they are good at organising everyone doesn’t mean they are the best writer or that they give the best feedback. So even if you are in charge, remember to keep checking in with the other members of the group that they are happy with the way things are going.

Jo Franklin is the leader of the group

Me trying to be a positive leader


2 Decide the Aims/Rules/Parameters of the Writer’s Group

Agree at the beginning,

  • how often you are going to meet
  • how many people will submit work for comment at each meeting
  • how many words each submission will be
  • whether you are going to submit and read the work before the meeting and the deadline for submitting to other members.
  • rules for constructive feedback ( I thought everyone knew this but I have been caught out before. I probably need to do another blog post on this)
  • what to do if something goes wrong. Sadly this tends to fall to the leader to sort out any infighting. I suggest that the leader gains support from the other members before tackling a difficult member of the team. I probably need to do another blog post on this because when a critique group goes toxic, it is very unpleasant.

Alli and Emma snuggling up on our weekend away

3 Keep the group to a manageable number.

I think six is the ideal number. It’s a good number to fit around one table and gives you enough people for varied feedback even if one member of the group is ill. If it becomes apparent that one member is not able to commit to the group then look around for a replacement before the whole thing collapses.

4 Define the Genre for the Group

If possible, stick to one genre (or age group if writing for children) for the critique group. This will avoid any genre vs literary arguments and having to justify the language chosen if writing for children. There can always be flexibility if an established member of the group goes off at a tangent and starts writing outside the usual genre. However the group should reserve the right to ask someone to leave if they go off piste and the rest of the group don’t like it.

Jen knows how to enjoy herself

5 Recruitment of New Members

The membership of a critique group can be a bit like shifting sands. At times, people will leave and it will be necessary to recruit new members. The best way to find new members is by personal recommendation. The quality of an individual’s feedback is more important than the quality of their writing! It’s a good idea to draw up an list of expectations for a new member so that they know what they are letting themselves in for.

6 Balance

You should think of your critique group as a co-operative. Reading and critiquing other people’s work takes time. Time away from your own writing so a group works when everyone puts in the same amount of effort and hopefully gets the same level of reward in return. It is payment in kind. If someone repeatedly expects other people to critique their work but can’t be bothered to spend time to comment in return, resentment will start to form among other members. Resentment is bad!

Tasha – you don’t have to be mad to work hear but it helps

7 Trust

As you get to know each other you will soon learn who to trust. All writers need constructive, helpful feedback. Sometimes that feedback will hurt, but as long as the critic can back up what they are saying with hard evidence, you really should listen to what they are saying. That doesn’t mean you have to act on it, but you should listen, go away and digest what the person says. The chances are they have highlighted a problematic section of your work, even if they haven’t nailed the exact problem. So to instill trust, all feedback needs to be precise and constructive.

And if it all works out you will have a ready made guest list for your book launch and friends for life.

The gang together at my book launch

Partners in Crime #1 – Critique Group

Writing can be a very lonely business. I’m happy in my own company and often spend the core part of the day not talking to anyone (except myself and my dog). I’ve always had a hankering to be an eccentric recluse in a writers hut, but I suspect the reality of being so isolated would drive me mad.

Once my writing starts looking like a book, I get other people involved in the process. I have a number of Partners in Crime who feature at different stages of the creation of a completed project – my agent, my publisher, my publicist and my illustrator. Do come back and read about the others, but first of all I want to introduce you to my critique group.

Emma Styles, Tasha Kavanagh, Alli Jeronimus, Jen Miles and me.

Me, Tasha, Alli, Jen

Me, Tasha, Alli, Jen

Me, Tasha, Alli and Jen at Tasha’s launch party. (Emma was working that night)

The exact membership of the crit group has changed over time, but this particular line up has been going strong for a few years. We currently meet every two weeks during term time at a secret location on the South Bank.

I asked the team about their experience of being in our critique group.

Tasha : It’s great when you get to know a group of writers well. Beyond the obvious – ie the great feedback – the support and camaraderie is invaluable.
Alli : I can bring a plot problem to you four and I know I’ll leave with it sorted.
Jen : I love (and dread) hearing your comments on my work and learning from them  – sometimes things are pointed out that I’m amazed I didn’t see myself. That’s both brilliant and annoying.
Emma : Mostly that I am never alone when working on something and always have a team on my side.


Emma in one of the exotic locations she writes about

Interestingly we all struggled to come up with a negative thing to say about being a member of the group.

I guess that is why we have been together so long, with no sign of stress.

Although, I’ve been pointing out the overuse of rhetorical questions for three years and they still ignore me which sends me slightly insane, but hey – it’s their book!

Sometimes there can be a danger of ‘writing for the critique group’. It can happen in a classroom situation where the tutor has to be strict on time. Writers tend to write short chapters, all ending on the same note. I don’t believe that happens with our group. Probably because we read each other’s work so regularly and often look at a chunk of 5,000 words at a time, so we’d pick up on that sort of thing.
For most of us, this is our only regular critique group. With the exception of Jen.

Jen says ‘I belong to three critique groups. I’m a crit group junkie… all very different in approach and experience, though similar comments often come up.’
Receiving feedback can be quite intense so everyone tries to take time to digest the comments before they wade in and make changes, but I guess it depends on where we are in the writing/submission cycle. Most people end up finishing their book and sending it out before the group have reached the final chapter. So there is a chance that we don’t actually get to read the whole book until it is published.This group has spawned two book babies so far.Help I'm An Alien

Crit Group Book Babies




We meet in a public space on the South Bank so now bring our own lunch. I asked everyone what they like to eat on a Friday.

Tasha  :   Uh… anything or nothing. Except now I’m vegan, so mostly chips.
Alli   :  Sushi. And then I steal bits of the Brownies Jo brings. [NB that is why Alli is slim and I am not]
Jen  :  Part of the pleasure is the jaunt to the Southbank, and I treat myself to yummy stuff either from the food market or the café inside.
Emma  :  I’m never organised enough to bring something from home, but I am partial to a cheese and pickle sandwich and a bowl of fries with mayo…
Jo  :  I love the opportunity of eating a meal cooked by someone else. My favourite is the vegetarian dosa from the Friday food market behind the Festival Hall and the gluten free brownies from the cookie/cake stall.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my amazing critique group.
The next installment of my Partners in Crime series will be all about my lovely agent.