Critique Group Turkeys by Laurie Calkhoven

Critique groups are formed because writers want support and validation and because we want to make our work the best it can be. When I first started taking formal writing workshops, the rule in most was that the writer was not allowed speak when being critiqued. At the end we were asked to sum up what the group said, and had an opportunity to ask questions.

It can be hard to receive the most constructive of criticism.  We want to jump in to explain (that’s not what I meant!) or defend (of course my character would wear a pink tutu!) or tell the other person that she’s wrong, wrong, wrong!  Being silent gives us no other choice but to listen. In the end we can disagree, but first we have to listen.

My own, much less formal, critique group evolved in a more loosey goosey manner. Writers do talk during their critiques—to answer and ask questions, to explain why we made a certain choice, etc.

I thought that loosey goosey format was working for us until we got a new member. He never stopped talking.  He spent all his time defending, arguing, and explaining. When we questioned a character’s motivation, he said we were wrong. When we made a suggestion for improving something or other, he was ready with reasons why he couldn’t. He spent a lot of time explaining what he was setting up or what was coming next.  It didn’t matter how many times one of us pointed out that that he couldn’t sit on every readers shoulder to explain, that if it wasn’t on the page it didn’t matter. He persisted.

A lot of the same issues came up session after session. I realized that he wasn’t listening. He was too busy defending and explaining to listen.  And then I realized that he didn’t want a critique group. He wanted an audience.  He was the dreaded critique group turkey.

Since then, I’ve closely monitored my own behavior to make sure I’m not doing the same thing. I keep my mouth shut, I listen, and only then—after all the talking is over—do I ask questions.

It’s hard, but it’s important.  Don’t be a turkey!


  1. Oh, what a good reminder! I've certainly had my own turkey-ish moments of self-defense in critique group, or pressing my own critique points too forcefully: 'But can't you SEE that if you don't take my suggestion, it will totally RUIN your book?!" This is not the kind of turkey we want to have in a group - or be ourselves.

  2. Good point, Claudia. Pressing our own points too forcefully is also a turkey move!

  3. Most of the turkeys I've met are the unpublished writers. Once we finally get serious about wanting to be published, we quiet our gobbling and learn to listen for ways to improve our manuscripts. Thanks for sharing your turkey story Laurie!

  4. Yes, exactly. We need to listen because we sure won't get an opportunity to say "...what we really meant" to the reader once our book or article is in print. This is an opportunity to hear what other people see, because we as writers can get tunnel vision at times.

  5. So true! You've GOT to be open to critique, or you never grow.


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