Not all critique groups are created equal. We all know that to improve as writers, we need to find that perfect balance — the reader who knows how to be honest and constructive, the one who can point out our flaws without fatally wounding our muse. Yet reality rarely offers that perfect balance. Most crit groups pander. They tell us, “This is very good!” when they don’t mean it. They think they’re being nice, when in truth they’re being cowards, and they are hurting your chances for success.
You want to hear the brutally honest truth? The one I hope helps you without destroying your muse? It’s up to you. You have to exercise just enough objectivity when it comes to your own work that you can step back and think, “Hm. This is the first thing I ever wrote, so it seems strange that nobody found anything at all wrong with it.” You also have to have enough pride to step back and think, “That was harsh. I’m sure this needs improvement, but telling me to give up doesn’t help.”
It’s up to you to know which criticism to believe, and which to discard. It’s up to you to figure out which changes are necessary, and which are simply one reader’s opinion. It is up to you to stay true to your vision, while embracing new ideas. It’s up to you to know when to ditch a crit group in favor of another.
In the end, it is entirely up to you. Great stories aren’t written in committee.
The worst part is that even after you find that perfect critique group, you can’t stay with them forever. The perfect group becomes less perfect over time as their perspective becomes stale. You have already implemented every improvement they know how to suggest to you, and you can anticipate what they will say. When you start writing with a single crit group in mind, it’s time to move on and start all over again.
Of course that, too, is up to you.
The trick to finding the perfect critique group lies, not in the members of the group, but within yourself. I know how to recognize enemies of my muse — panderers and destructive critics alike. If I need an ego boost, I’ll send mys stories to my parents, but otherwise I don’t ask people’s opinions if I already know their answers. If you’re serious, neither will you.
I wish you the best of luck with all you do!