9.37: Training A Critique Group, with Kathleen Dalton Woodbury

Kathleen Dalton Woodbury, the forum moderator at the Hatrack River writers group joined us at Westercon 67 to talk about critique groups. We cover how critiques should be offered, as well as importance of receiving critiques graciously and without defense, and we reflect on lots of the good and bad writing groups and critique groups we’ve been a part of.

This is hard to get right, but once you do get it right your critique group can become the team that helps you turn your work into something outstanding.



A magic system in which the audio you play in your car will give your car superpowers.

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, narrated by Jim Dale

12 thoughts on “9.37: Training A Critique Group, with Kathleen Dalton Woodbury”

  1. I seem to have the opposite problem to the one you addressed. My group can’t give any critiques, instead praising every piece. So, I’m curious if there’s any way to train people to give any critique at all?

  2. Hey folks,
    Love these podcasts. I listen every week.

    However, today there is a MAJOR spoiler in the book of the week. Morgenstern does not let her audience know the stakes of the conflict between the two magicians for 150 plus pages. We know there’s a contest, but we don’t know the stakes of the contest.

    It is one of Morgenstern’s best traits as a writer that she keeps you intrigued without telling you the stakes of the contest. It’s a difficult challenge which she pulls off masterfully.

    It’s so natural to tell the stakes of a conflict, so I understand, (I have trouble describing the book while not doing the exact same thing) but in this case the writer has gone to great lengths to hide them from the audience to build tension and your book promo undermines that.

    Any chance on an edit?
    Erik Wecks

  3. The problem in my writing group is of a slightly different kind; it’s not so much people defending themselves, it’s more that someone in my writing group keeps defending other people’s writing. Which is tricky to deal with, because it’s meant well and I feel it should be allowed to say what you thought was in the story… but when does it become defending someone else? How do I deal with this?

    Awesome podcast, as usual.

  4. That is unfortunate that the book of the week was spoiled this week. I was looking forward to reading it.

  5. I also was VERY disappointed to be spoiled for the Night Circus :( I had been wanting to read it and was interested to learn more, but not that much.

    I may not read it now.

  6. To those complaining about the spoiler, I feel for you. I hate it when a book is spoiled for me, but don’t let this spoiler keep you from reading the book. The stakes of the contest are not even the main event, even though that is kept from the reader for a while. Erin Morgenstern has a lovely voice, and really knows how to set a scene and draw you into the world of her story. Read it. You will love it.

    As for the writing podcast, this was great. I am just now starting a writers critique group, and this show may help us out.

  7. I think the most frustrating thing in my old critique group was that there were a couple of people who would essentially tell you that you should be writing a completely different story. I wish we had had the “Don’t fix it” policy, because I think that would have solved 95% of the problem.

    For the remaining 5%, I think you need to be honest with yourself about your prejudices when critiquing. I think there is more danger surrounding the “I don’t believe it,” and the “I don’t care about it,” remarks than there is with the “I don’t understand it.” Thinking back on some of the “you wrote the wrong story” criticisms, I suspect lurking behind them was the belief “I could never believe this,” or “I could never care about this.”

    I don’t think you need to recuse yourself if you have one of these reactions, but you need to recognize if the problem is not that the writer isn’t selling it, but that you are fundamentally unwilling to buy.

  8. This was a good one. It made me realize that I had slipped into defending several times.

    One thing that still confuses me sometimes, though, is when I have opposite feedback on the same text. One person loves it, the other hates it. Do I just collect more statistics, or do I rewrite that part and try it all again?

    1. If possible, find out WHY each critique reader is reacting the way they do. Sometimes it’s what they brought with them to the story — every reader is different. Sometimes there’s something one reader missed, but the other reader caught, and they’ll both love the submission if that thing is called out more effectively.

      But no story is for everybody. Maybe your critique group is built in a way that will let you know what your fans will be like. :-)

  9. I think the part where I stumble, is if someone says “I didn’t care” should a member ask why it was they didn’t care?

    For me, I think it would be professional to be something like, “I didn’t care about this specific paragraph.”

    It just specific enough, without going into prescription writing. The former doesn’t really elaborate on the portion of why you didn’t care.

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