Saturday, November 23, 2019

National Espresso Day: Musings on coffee and critique groups

Happy National Espresso Day to you!! If you are a tea drinker, your day will come (April 21st, specifically), but no need to wait to celebrate. You are welcome here today as well.

Whether coffee, tea, or something else, gathering together with people of like minds to hash through things over a cuppa is a wonderful way to connect. In the world of writing, such kaffeeklatsches can often be found in the form of critique groups. As for me, I'm a critique-group believer and an unrepentant consumer of triple-shot lattes.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Right now, I belong to two face-to-face critique groups. One meets regularly every Friday at lunch. We share chapters by email beforehand (sometimes the chapters come flying in the night before), and gather for sandwiches, coffee, and critiquing a bit before noon on Fridays. We are fast and efficient. Our meetings usually last about an hour, occasionally stretching to an hour and a half, if there's a lot of material to go through.

The second group meets on an "as needed" basis. Sometimes, months go by before one or the other of us says, "Hey, can we meet?" This second group tends to gather on a Saturday or Sunday for a longer stretch of time—five hours is not uncommon. This group tends to critique larger chunks of writing—100-page submittals are not unheard of. The gatherings also involve lunch, coffee, much noshing of chocolate, and catching up on life in general. These meetings tend to be more free-form than the Friday noon get-togethers: Sometimes we critique page-by-page, sometimes we offer more general overall commentary, and, if a writer asks, we sometimes spend time brainstorming specific issues.

So, what makes a "critiquing kaffeeklatsch" work? Why do some groups continue and others implode in impressive (sometimes damaging) fashion?

For me, for a group to work, the writers involved usually have three qualities: Respect for the other members of the group, a thick skin when it comes to one's own work, and flexibility. But of course, every writer (and every group) is different. For more on critique groups—how to build them and how to keep them going—check out these posts:
 If you happen to be part of a critique group that works for you, raise your cup of espresso/tea/soda/water on high and thank your fellow scribes. You are one of the lucky ones!

If you have insights into "what works" (or doesn't) in critique groups, please add a comment. We'd love to hear from you...
Ann Parker authors the award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press, an imprint of Sourcebooks. During the day, she wrangles words for a living as a science editor/writer and marketing communications specialist (which is basically a fancy term for "editor/writer"). Her midnight hours are devoted to scribbling fiction. Visit for more information.


  1. You're lucky to have two such effective groups. I have one critique partner and have had her for years. We share 20 pages every two weeks. Our strength is two-fold: one, we are not thin-skinned, and two, we have different strengths and learn from each other.

    I used to be in another group, but there was a falling out. We've all remained friends, but we don't critique anymore.

    1. Hi Polly,
      Critique groups are interesting social experiments... Sometimes the "mix" works, and sometimes it doesn't...

  2. I've lost count of how many critique groups I've been in, but I loved each and every one of them. It's a two-fer. You get the critiques by other writers, and you get to socialize with other writers. Heaven!

  3. I totally agree with the 3 qualities that make a critique group work. Only once have I ventured into such a group, and it was neither helpful nor encouraging. I haven't had the nerve or the opportunity to try it again.


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