Where to get your work critiqued

Several people have written asking if it’s not kosher to ask pros for help where can they get their work critiqued?

That’s a very good question with many answers.

For most of my years of being unpublished almost no one saw my work.1 Thus I did not improve much. But in the five or so years before publication I started swapping my work with other unpublished writer friends.2 What a difference having a few readers makes!

I was lucky enough to live in big enough cities that finding other beginning writers wasn’t too hard. (Sydney and NYC.) But I know many of you are more isolated than that. Or you’re too shy to admit that you want to be a published writer.3 For you I recommend online critique groups. Personally, I have never tried them because back when I was starting out they didn’t exist. But I know many people who’ve had great experiences with them. The Critters workshop for science fiction & fantasy is one I’ve heard good things about.

Anyone want to share their online critting experiences and/or recommend some good online worshops?

I also know many people whose writing lives have been dramatically changed by going to real life intensive workshops such as Clarion (also for sf & f) which operates in Australia and the US of A. Does anyone have other real life workshops to recommend?

Of course, something like Clarion lasts six weeks and isn’t free. Many people can’t afford that amount of time or money so it’s not going to be possible for everyone. Fortunately most online workshops are free.

And remember that crit groups and workshops don’t work for everyone and that they’re not all created equal. Just as some critique partners will work great for you and others won’t, and that may also vary from story to story.

Please chime in with any other suggestions and recommendations.


  1. For those who don’t know it took me twenty years to get published. []
  2. Here’s the story of how I wrote my first novel thanks to my wonderful critique partner Johanne Knowles. []
  3. It took me years to admit it to any but my closest friends and family. []


  1. Robyn on #

    Viable Paradise? It’s a week… Which is, you know, viable, to someone with a job.

  2. beth on #

    I found a good group by joining SCBWI. There are local groups there to join in person, but I also just sent an email on the listerv and asked for people who wanted to swap via email.

  3. richard on #

    I recently took a novel-writing workshop at an adult education center. About half the students (5 of us, so far) decided to form a crit group afterward and we’re working through each others’ novels. Of course, none of us are published, but it’s really useful to have somebody else actually read your work closely and comment.

  4. Patrick on #

    Look for local writers groups/associations or what have you. Likely there is a local conference annually within driving distance almost anywhere. From there you can start to network. Even if you don’t write Romance or Children’s lit, checking out RWA or SCWBI is a useful thing. They have local groups everywhere and generally there is a crit group.

    There are larger more intense workshops like Clarion, VP and some writers do give weekend workshops, such as Bob Mayer and Dean Wesley Smith.

    Usually you find writers like that speaking at conferences.

    Personally, I have learned a lot from writer/editor run workshops and conferences, but tend to stay away from crit groups. I lean toward just a few trusted readers, many of whom I have met at conferences or professional workshops and trade reading. Currently, I am cultivating to non-writers to be readers for me. I show them the professional level critiques I get from other writers to help them learn how to critique.

    I admit to one time asking Diana to read for me. Bad me. But not so bad, because I never finished said project. Or actually, VERY bad me…

  5. London on #

    I found my online critique partners at http://critpartnermatch.ning.com/ and http://www.fmwriters.com (go to lobby then to critique boards). Real life groups have been harder. I’ve found a lot of poets and short story writers, but no young adult fiction writers or epic fantasy writers and certainly no one who writes those in combination. 🙁 Of course I have a hard time meeting people outside of my law school, which probably has a lot to do with it.
    That said, I do go to a monthly real life writing group of poets and short story writers, figuring that it’s still fun & a learning experience. I found that group by interrogating people at parties and rabidly following up. 🙂
    Great topic–thanks Justine.

  6. Celia on #

    The Online Writing Workshop (http://sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com/ )got me and a lot of my friends started. It is a pay workshop, but also has a one month free trial for people to try out.

    That said, I think the often overlooked bonus of an in person crit group is that there is usually a schedule–ie, ‘we’ll crit your story in two weeks, so please have something for us next week”–which is a good motivator to write. Face to face is a lot harder to make excuses about not writing.

  7. Traci C. on #

    Online, there’s also the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction and Fantasy (OWW), which has seen a lot of folks to on to publication. There’s a fee for the year ($49, I think). It’s a good group in general, though crits are often hit or miss, as they are in any online situation.

    I actually got lucky and found some good writing classes at a local community college. The teachers were great and open to any genre. Inexpensive, too, and actually better than one of the university writing classes I took.

    If you’re looking for a Master’s, you can get an MA in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University out in Greensburg, PA. It’s low residency (meaning you fly out every six months for classes) and you write a novel as your thesis. Very supportive and open to any genre with professional writers as mentors and student critique groups. Stonecoast, up in Maine has a genre-friendly low-res program too.

    And yes there’s Clarion and Viable Paradise, there’s also Odyssey, another 6-week workshop in the summer.

    There’s Alpha, which is a weeklong SF/F workshop for younger writers where pros come to visit in the Pittsburgh area, I think.

    Check to see if your area has any local SF/F conventions. Some of them have writing workshops as part of the programming.

    The overall trick is to find writers who are at least as good as you, preferably better, because if all they say is “I like it,” you’re never going to get better; they need to point out stuff that needs improved and to be honest about it. And I know plenty of pro writers that still have face-to-face crit groups, because they still need their peer’s help in improving.

  8. Meeks on #

    Just a shout-out for the writing workshops offered by places like Media Bistro–obviously the caliber of the student body varies from session to session, but in my own class I’ve been VERY impressed by how talented my students have been. Two have scored book deals and several are well on their way. And based on their feedback, I think the process of imposed deadlines and varied feedback can be invaluable.

  9. Jennifer Savage on #

    Ariel Gore, author of How To Be a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead, offers “Lit Star Training,” an online workshop involving assignments and peer critiques.

    Sexier explanation here: http://arielgore.com/

  10. Diana Peterfreund on #

    The last person who asked me to read something for them and then DID send it to me, Patrick, has been waiting for six months. Not a pretty picture.

    I’ve found all my crit partners either online or at RWA meetings. If you hang out an comment on writing blogs/forums/message boards (like this one, or an agent blog, or verla kay or etc. ad mauseum, you end up making friends, and then you end up exchanging work, and then it’s like dating — sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Keep working until you find the right match.

  11. Justine on #

    Thanks everyone for the helpful responses!

  12. Mary Elizabeth S. on #

    As London mentioned, Forward Motion ( http://www.fmwriters.com ) is a wonderful resource, not only for getting crits but for all kinds of writing stuff. They have exercises and challenges and discussions and open crits and crit groups and think tanks and even their own e-zine full of useful articles on writing.

    There are writers at every level there, from just starting out to well into their careers, and everyone is friendly and helpful. The whole community is built on the idea of Paying if Forward–writers at all levels learning from each other and sharing what they know.

    For me, joining an online writing community had a profound effect on my writing. I climbed an amazingly steep learning curve, gained a lot of self-confidence, and made some wonderful friends in the process. I don’t visit FM much anymore, but I sure enjoyed it while I was there.

    No, I’m not shamelessly plugging my favorite writers community, not in the least. What would give you that idea? ;D


  13. Mary Anne Mohanraj on #

    Justine, if you don’t mind a plug, I’ll note that I teach writing classes. At the university where I’m employed, of course, but also in-person classes in Chicago and online classes as well, ranging from one-week to two-month sessions. Some are general fiction classes, some are focused on various genres.

    Details on current workshops can be found here: http://www.mamohanraj.com/classes.html

  14. Mary Anne Mohanraj on #

    Oops — one more clarification. The spring break workshop is an intermediate level, but this summer I’ll almost certainly be teaching a longer beginner workshop. And while I haven’t published YA myself, I read it extensively, and YA writers would be welcome in any of my workshops.

  15. Alisa on #

    I found my critique group in a small town by asking around. This was a brave thing for me, but I decided that writing was important enough to face the embarrassment of admitting I wanted to do it. (Which I think is a big step in a writer’s development. You’re going to have to go there someday.) My group had formed after an adult education class at the local college, and has been invaluable to me, but not exactly in the way I thought it would be.

    I learned far more from reading other people’s work than I did from their comments about my work. I thought a writing group would be all about delicious praise and a few helpful suggestions. As readers, most beginning writers never see anything but polished, published work from other writers. When you see someone else’s manuscript struggling under the same problem that has been helpfully pointed out to you in your last 6 stories, you not only finally get it at last, but also realize why it’s a problem.

    There’s a nice “support” aspect to local critique groups – you can get all your writing-geeking out of your system at the meetings and not have to annoy your friends and relations with your word-nerdery – or feel weird because you’re keeping it all to yourself.

    I also recommend summer workshops, especially for people who can’t get to a regular group. I tried this out for the first time last summer, with a lot of trepidation about wasting $$ and etc, but it turned out great. It was eye-opening to listen to an experienced author critique other people’s manuscripts (again, what she said about other people’s work was far more instructive than what was said about my own). Her 10-minute breakdowns of how she might “fix” other writers’ stories are examples I still refer to a year later. Conferences are also a good way to meet other writers you connect with – a few who might turn out to be your email readers/critique partners.

  16. Tim Keating on #

    Second (or third, I guess) recommendation for Viable Paradise. I went in the fall and it was fantastically awesome. Even better, it plugged me into a network of writers at or above the same level of skill and motivation as me, which IMHO is the best measure of value in a critique group.

    I would have to say I do *not* recommend Critters. It didn’t work for me at all, largely because of aburt’s extremely autocratic style of operating the thing and the service’s technical deficiencies. (You get “points” for critting, and you have to maintain a certain ratio to be allowed to post a ms; all well and good, but the system often didn’t credit me when I *did* crit, and holy God is it like trying to drink from the firehose.)

  17. Sarah P. on #

    One of the links I was recently given was http://www.critiquecircle.com which I find is a most excellent format. It reminds me of Critters.Org the way they set up the queue and critique system (without Critters’ point system that dings you for not critting in a given week), and has a very active forum. They also do a large number of fiction genres and allow you to co-mingle your story between genres. Any given story is only up for a week (like Critters) but you get a good number of crits for each so it balances out. I like it and would definitely recommend it to others looking for help (and TO help).

Comments are closed.