C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

Author Blog Challenge 9: The key to a great critique group is… (plus a funny bonus)

English: Smith & Wesson 686 6" .357 Magnum

English: Smith & Wesson 686 6″ .357 Magnum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

*If you’ve just popped in for the funny (and insightful!) bonus, you’ll find the link to the Writing Critique Group Decoder at the bottom of this post. Thanks for visiting ChazzWrites.com and please do subscribe.

Today’s Author Blog Challenge writing prompt is: Have you participated in a critique groups? If so, how did it work out for you? If not, why have you avoided them to this point?

True story:

I visited a writing group and much of the discussion was dominated by an imperious woman who was keen to get a critiquing group started. Only she pronounced it: “Kr-eye-teaking.” Then she said, “Kudos to you!” But she pronounced it “KA-doos“.

I didn’t want to be part of her critique group.

Then another writing group invited new members and I checked it out.

Nice folks, but they were light on writing experience and didn’t read the genres in which I write. Worse, one guy (who would have been 25% of the group) spoke at great length about the book he would someday write. It was sci-fi, which was fine, but he was too invested in theory and he didn’t have a story. He had a wacky setting which took half an hour to explain. It would be hard to get invested in a story where the characters were inert alien rods…unless we’re talking about the aliens behind Third Rock from the Sun. (That’s kind of funny if you remember the details of that sit com.)

I didn’t join that group, either. We didn’t have enough in common in what we liked to read and write and if I had to hear another word about this amazing civilization living in the rings of Saturn, I would have had to shoot myself in the face.

But I do have a critique group and that’s working out great. Well, not exactly. They’re my beta team.

For my crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus, I needed a beta team to proof my manuscript and find bugs. It was the betas that reminded me that Dirty Harry didn’t carry a .357 Magnum. It was a .44. The beta team caught that the Coen brothers of movie fame don’t spell their name with an h. (I guess I was thinking of the Cohen brothers of legal fame.)

The key to finding your critique group, or beta team, is: Choose wisely. Say no. Don’t settle.

I found a great team in a SWAT trainer, an ex-military buddy, a teacher, a psychologist, two fellow writers and the funniest woman I know who also happens to be a voracious reader. They’re all getting signed copies of the paperback with a spot in the Acknowledgements section and help with their books when they decide to write them. And lollipops.


A while back I wrote The Critique Group Decoder as a service to writers uninitiated in the dance. Click for the laughs. Stay for the reality.

 Related articles

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , , ,

Writing Critique Group Decoder

They say: That was interesting  and then add nothing else.

They mean: It wasn’t interesting.

They say: You made an interesting artistic choice there. At the turning point three quarters of the way through I would have done this…

They mean: If this was a totally different story, written by me, I’d like it.

They say: I found a bunch of typos here and you split an infinitive there and you like sentence fragments too much, cuz you know, that’s not a complete sentence…

They mean: I am a grammarian and hope to be an editor one day. Otherwise I am useless to you, but I can continue to be annoying. Later on I’ll be bewildered that no one ever sits near me or speaks to me at the break.

They say: Kaddoos to you!

They mean: I am an illiterate who doesn’t know the word kudos, so don’t take my praise so seriously.

They say: I absolutely love everything you write.

They mean: I want to sleep with you and hope you share my fetish.

They say: Where do you get your ideas?

They mean: Are you really the abused prostitute in the story and is it wrong that turns me on?

They say: There’s a few quibbles. Maybe you could engage more senses here and here and tell more than show in the last couple pages because it feel like you’re rushing the end.

They mean: I can make useful suggestions without trying to put you down to make myself feel good.

They say: I don’t care for fantasy stories so I really don’t have anything to say about that.

They mean: just what they said and that’s fair. If you hate a genre and can’t get past it, don’t comment on it.

They say: That wouldn’t happen.

They mean: That’s either outside my experience and I have no idea what I’m talking about or you have to write more to convince me that’s the ring of truth I’m hearing and not you working the smoke and mirrors.

You say: What do you mean, that wouldn’t happen? It did happen.

You mean: Sorry I didn’t hit the feel of verisimilitude for you. Yet. And sorry I sounded defensive.

They say: You sound defensive.

You say: Perhaps it’s because you’re being offensive.

They say: It’s just feedback. I don’t mean to be offensive.

You say: I guess I’m a delicate doily…or being offensive just comes really easy to you. Clod.

They say: Let me hit you over the head with the fact that I’m a teacher (or I’ve been published somewhere and you haven’t or as my good friend Norman Mailer used to say…)

They mean: Just do what I tell you to do and God, isn’t my voice a lovely basso profundo?

They say: Needs one more polish and you’re done. Have you thought about sending it to X magazine?

They mean: Good for you. Damn I wish I’d written that.

They say: I suck.

They mean: Somebody throw me a bone here and tell me one thing you liked about my story or I’m not coming back cuz I just can’t stand it anymore.

They say: You suck.

They mean: You shredded my favorite story last week. Payback, bitch!

They say: That’s the best story ev-er! Ev-er!

They mean: And you’re critiquing my story next! Mercy Master!

They say: I don’t understand the connection from here to there.

They mean: I wasn’t really listening.

They say: Your writing is very muscular and you know…workmanlike prose.

They mean: It’s too readable. I hate it.

They say: I hate epiphanies.

They mean: Your epiphany was banal or your story isn’t depressing enough to suit my worldview because no ending should ever connote trancendance because that would mean there is hope for the human race.

They say: It’s good but no agent or editor will ever touch that.

They mean: That’s really bad.


They mean: It’s no good for agents or editors without vision who are constantly trying to catch up with the last publishing trend.

They say: Your writing is good but your subject/genre isn’t hot in market right now.

They mean: Once everybody else publishes it, then we’ll concede it had value but for now we’ll pee all over your efforts.

They say: Your writing is very accessible.

They mean: They could understand it and enjoyed it.


They mean: They could understand it too easily which means you’re a commercial writer and therefore unworthy of their time.

They say: I don’t get it.

They mean: I don’t get it.


I’m high.

They say: Far out! Man, that was like…I don’t know…you know…

They mean: I am incapable of expressing myself and I meant to sign up for the hemp macrame class but it was full. Also, I’m high.

They say: Nothing but once in awhile you catch more than one or two people rolling their eyes so hard it looks like they might strain something.

They mean: You’re the hobbyist in the class who is, in their opinion, truly hopeless. They’re right.

They say: Something consistently unhelpful .

They mean: Who cares? That’s all they’ve got. They’re negative clods who will not help you in your career. And if they’re so shit hot, what are they doing in a group with you? Shouldn’t they be off somewhere exotic turning down calls from the Nobel committee?

They say: Something constructive and consistently helpful.

They mean: I consistently say something helpful to you because you’re helping me. Why don’t we ditch a bunch of these opinionated bozos, go have a coffee after group and become each other’s readers? I get you. You get me. Let’s lose all these people who don’t get us and exchange stories and finally have a voice we know is worth our trust? Also, if you don’t give me 3,000 words a week I’ll really bitch you out. Please do the same for me.

(Keep an eye out for these Theys. They could be really useful to your career.)

They say: I didn’t write anything this week.

They mean: I’m just here to snipe at others and refuse to put myself out there.

They say: Your story had a compelling sense of place.

They mean: I couldn’t bring myself to read that shit but I have to say something.

They say: The twist ending (or revelation or change in character or the emotion) felt too easily achieved/melodramatic or cheap.

They mean: what they said.

They could have a point. Maybe they don’t. Maye you underwrote it or overwrote it. Whatever they say or mean, remember this:


All art is subjective. Don’t take any critique too seriously. Listen and then do what makes sense to you. You must write for yourself first.


They say: Thank you for all your suggestions. I can’t wait to go home and implement all of them..even the ones that contradict each other.

They mean: I have no dignity and no judgement of my own.

Filed under: manuscript evaluation, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , ,

Poor Writing Critique

Here’s an unhelpful answer when you ask for feedback: “That’s derivative.” Derivative is “it’s been done” dressed up in fancy clothes. That’s not useful information because everything has been done.

There are books that try to reduce everything to thirty plots or only ten. I can edit that down to two: Boy gets girl (with multiple variations) and good versus evil. It’s up to the writer to make it different enough within the familiar.

When someone says what you’ve written is derivative, what they really mean–and they might not know this–is that it’s boring. Maybe you’d prefer the encrypted signal after all, huh?

Recently some wag complained that Scrubs is derivative of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. If you don’t remember Parker Lewis you aren’t alone, but yes, it was a funny show that featured lots of quick fantasy sequences and non sequiturs. It’s ironic that the critic was saying Scrubs was derivative when it’s so clear that Parker was heavily influenced by Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

 (Family Guy uses the same devices but nobody’s calling Family Guy derivative except some really bitter Simpsons fanatics.)

Scrubs isn’t derivative because (a) it has lasted longer and will be in syndication forever and (b) while both are comedies, Scrubs occasionally has more emotional depth. Parker Lewis Can’t Lose was a safe show to watch. It was right in the title! He couldn’t lose! In Scrubs, patients you like sometimes die and more than once the writers made me cry while I was laughing. That’s really hard to do in twenty-two minutes of what’s often a silly show.

Both shows use some of the same devices, but the stories and characters are plenty different. That’s not derivative. (Of course, Scrubs has moved around so much in broadcast times and even networks that I haven’t seen it for several seasons now. They lost me when they went to the January to June format to accommodate Zach Braff’s movie career.)

There are no new plots but there are plenty of characters and plot permutations and combinations to last us until the sun explodes. If someone tells you you’ve written something derivative, you can say:

“Tell me more.”

“Anything else?”


“You’re an ass hat.”


*Did you catch the subtext here? To talk about writing, we always use examples from popular TV shows and movies as a shortcut to mutual understanding. Yes, that’s writing, too, but isn’t it a bit sad that we don’t have enough common examples to draw from in books? I could blog for days on Fight Club, but since a bunch of you haven’t read it (still!) it’s not a common enough example to use as a currency on a writing site. Maybe you’ve all seen the movie. There are so many books and far fewer popular shows and movies, but in our culture what we watch interprets our world. We don’t have enough text in common, so go read something.

Filed under: Rant, Rejection, writing tips, ,

Writing Critique Groups

I picked up some great advice from the Writing Excuses podcast (find the podcast feeds on their website.) If you are in a writing group and someone is giving you feedback:

1. It’s your job to not leap to defend your work. Listen and use their reaction or don’t, but keep your mouth shut.

2. If someone critiques your writing, they aren’t attacking you personally.

3. If they do attack you personally, you then have the pleasure of ignoring them. Forever.

4. If someone is successful in making you feel bad about your work, go to Amazon and find a so-called “great work of literature” you admire, even cherish. Then go to the comments section and read the critiques from the people who hated, hated, hated it. This is art. This is subjective. There is no work with universal appeal.

The Writing Excuses authors broadcast weekly. Listen for real gems on the techniques, frustrations and challenges of writing fiction. It’s fifteen minutes long, and despite their tagline, they’re pretty smart.

Filed under: writing tips, ,

Bestseller with over 1,000 reviews!
Winner of the North Street Book Prize, Reader's Favorite, the
Literary Titan Award, the Hollywood Book Festival, and the
New York Book Festival.


Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

Join my inner circle at AllThatChazz.com

See my books, blogs, links and podcasts.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 9,096 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: