Are You Being Served? A Recipe for a Great Critique Group

- 2-12 dedicated authors (can be of different genres & formats; can be of same genre & format)
- heaping doses of imagination
- heaping doses of respect
- heaping doses of sensitivity
- liberal doses of gentle honesty (if you opt for brutal, critique group will become too tough and hard to swallow)
open-mindedness and creative flexibility
- willingness to ask questions and listen to answers
- generous sprinkles of laughter (can use hysteria and guffaws if desired)
timer (enables fair attention paid to each author)
- cough drops & water (enables requisite read-alouds)
bathroom & stretch breaks
delicious food
comfortable setting (a cozy setting is even better, if you can find it)
wine or spirits (for after critiques are completed! Some may find wine or spirits appropriate during, but proceed with caution)
optional: friendly dog and/or cat; fireplace; views (ocean, woodland, mountains, etc.); anything else to enhance experience


Gather ingredients together on a regular basis. Stir with professionalism, exuberance, imagination, and inspiration. Surprises may result. Quiet moments of reflection may be required. Questions can be asked for which there may be no immediate or clear answers. That's ok. Allow for staying open to possibilities; critique groups vary based upon the ratio and balance of ingredients.  

Caution: If each author doesn’t feel heard and respected, the ratio of ingredients has gone awry and you will most assuredly want to double-check your recipe.

Note: Every once in a while, it's a good idea to add a one-time ingredient to this recipe, such as a professional editor or published author who will provide a new voice and perspective to the discussion – this can best be achieved over a weekend. For a sample taste of this sort of enhanced group experience, go to this post from the Route 19 Writers blog. 

This recipe serves many, including a richer society of writers and readers.

  (c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


  1. This sounds like the exact recipe I was served this past weekend - - and now, I'm ready for seconds.
    Thanks again, Emma!
    Route 19 Writers thank you.

  2. Love this, Emma! Not sure how to find this perfect stew, but oh it sounds good.

    1. Let this be a guideline to starting your own critique group if you have to!

  3. Nicely put, Emma. Our critique group has been together for over seven years and we started with this recipe and have stayed with it. I would add that a good critique group is part writing, part support and part therapy.

  4. Sangeeta3/18/2013

    What a lovely and creative post! The need for gentle—rather than brutal—honesty is an especially great point, as many writers (and editors) are already hard on themselves. Thanks for the reminder to tread lightly.

    1. How right you are, Sangeeta. Authors are toughest on themselves, so they need groups that feel safe.

  5. "feel safe" I like that, Emma!
    Within a safe haven the mind opens and unfolds creating a path of endless possibilites.

    "I would add that a good critique group is part writing, part support and part therapy."
    Teresa, I couldn't agree more!

  6. What a fabulous recipe, Emma! Glad to see that it is fat-free and low on sugar. I prefer my critiques without sugar. I like the liberal dose of gentle honesty.

  7. Emma, have you ever done a post on what can properly be shared from one's critique group?
    Someone asked me if Pen and Ink would do such a post and none of us are qualified to do so. I think it's an interesting subject. When has one stepped over the line when talking about a fellow critique group member's ideas. What are proper guidelines for casual mentions on Facebook?
    I love and feel completely safe with Pen and Ink. But I like this fellow author very much and would love to see her concerns addressed.
    If you would ever consent to guest post at Pen and Ink, we would love to have you.
    penink04 at gmail dot com

    1. Thank you for your comment and question. I've emailed you.

  8. I love it! The perfect recipe for a productive critique group! :)

  9. A wonderful recipe! Now all I need are the writers to be local and the brilliant editor(s) to be closer. Or for YBB to get here faster! :)

  10. Thank you, I love your recipe. I would also like to add members with different literary strengths to keep things spicy.

    I love my local SCBWI critique group, they are teaching me so much.

  11. I belong to SCBWI in Canada East but too far away for any critique group so your recipe is a help. I have belonged to another group that did not function as you suggest and spent more time on marketing which is not the best point for writers (not at first anyway). Living in rural Ontario, I have come to write rather regional picture books and longer novels based on local history. It seems to work for me. I got some help from Laura Backs (write4children and CBI with Jon Bard) It is refreshing to read your report. May I share it on my blog please?
    Jane Buttery

    1. Thanks for your comments, Jane. You're welcome to link to my blog post on your own blog, and please note the content is (c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC. Thanks!