Here are three reasons why you shouldn’t join a critique group.
1 - Members aren’t experts. Most professional writers don’t have the time or inclination to join critique groups; they’re too busy making a living writing. As a result, critique groups are typically made up of aspiring authors, many of whom are unpublished (or self-published), or have maybe written material for someone’s website or the church newsletter. They’re not in the group because they have something to offer, but because they have something they need. It’s nothing against them personally; they simply don’t know enough about writing to offer you good advice. Which leads to #2:
2 - You get bad advice. There are a myriad of forces that shape the way your story should be told—believability, escalation, voice, characterization, inevitability, causality, mood, and so on. Without taking all of these into account a person will end up offering you advice that, in the end, is detrimental rather than helpful. To ask someone who doesn’t understand the intricacies of story to help you with your novel is like going to someone who’s never been to medical school to try and get advice on how to perform heart surgery. It’s going to be bad news for everyone involved.
Think about it this way: novice carpenters don’t get together to critique each other’s carpentry, they have a master carpenter teach them. Novice swimmers don’t get together to critique each others’ strokes, they have an expert swimmer teach them. Writing is the only field I know of where we encourage people to let the blind lead the blind. If your group has a master carpenter in it or an expert swimmer (I’m trusting you to know what I mean), then go for it! But if not, I’d stay away.
3 - The material being critiqued is out of context. Here’s a typical scenario: One person says, “You need a better hook for your story,” but she doesn’t know the rest of the story so she doesn’t know if it really sets up the novel well or not. So then you go home and rewrite the hook and then bring it back next week. But really, you should have probably moved on to develop the broader context of your novel instead. Who knows, you might need to discard that opening anyway.
If you have writers in your group who are professionals, who make a living writing, then have at it. Otherwise steer clear. You’re going to unqualified people giving you bad advice that wastes your time.
There’s nothing wrong with getting together with other aspiring novelists to have lunch, to encourage each other, to develop your friendships, or to keep each other accountable, but find someone who’s qualified before asking others to critique your work.
Instead, hone your work, study the articles on this site and on Writer’s Digest’s site, and put the stuff into practice. Keep critically analyzing your writing and try reading a book like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers or The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them).
You can improve. You can do this. And you can do it without the pitfalls of being part of a critique group.