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Writing Fiction: An Introductory Guide: Writing Classes & Critique Groups

A guide to the craft and business of writing fiction.

Writing Classes & Critique Groups

Introduction to Writing Classes & Critique Groups

 

So you'd like to take a class to learn more about writing, or you'd like to get feedback from others to improve your work. Critique groups and classes offer support, feedback, accountability, and encouragement. You also stand a good chance of making life-long friends who also love the same thing you do: writing.

 

Writing Classes & Critique Groups contents

Take a Writing Class - This is a list of classes that are online and/or in the Boston area. 

Choose the Right Critique Group for You - What should you consider when choosing a group? Find out here!

Join a Critique Group - This is a list of existing groups that are online and/or in the Boston area. 

Start Your Own Critique Group - Tips for starting your own writing group! 

 

Free vs cost & local vs online

  • Some of these groups and classes are local, within the greater Boston area, and some are online, so you'll need a computer with internet to access them.
    • The Join a Critique Group tab has been split into two lists: Local first and online second.
    • In the Take a Writing Class tab, each listing will say either "Local" or "Online" in parenthesis.
  • Some of these groups and classes will be free, while others will have a cost associated with the group or individual classes. These have been noted for each listing as either "Cost" or "Free". Please check the individual websites for specific costs and possible discounts. 

 

A note on critique groups

You will see in Choosing the Right Critique Group For You a list of various types of groups, from writing to critique and social to accountability. For simplification, and because the most popular group among them is the critique group, this guide uses the term "critique" in a general sense to mean any of those types of groups.

Take a Writing Class

 

Angela James' Classes - (Cost/Online) Join editor Angela James as she teaches you how to edit your novel, pace your novel, and learn the ins and outs of publishing.

The Writer's Roadmap – (Cost/Online) A free email course by author, Tomi Adeyemi. Her website also includes downloadable writing tools including structure and character worksheets, back story templates and planners, writing prompts, and more. 

Gotham Writers -  (Cost/Online) A creative home in New York City and online where writers develop their craft and come together in the spirit of discovery and fellowship. We’ve been teaching creative writing and business writing since 1993. 

GrubStreet (Cost/Local & Online) By rigorously developing voices of every type and talent and by removing barriers to entry, GrubStreet fosters the creation of meaningful stories and ensures that excellent writing remains vital and relevant. Includes workshops, online classes, intensives, a Young Adult Writers Program, Consulting, and more. 

GrubStreet's Neighborhood Classes (Free/Local) Write Down the Street has a special focus on making creative writing workshops more accessible to those who have been underrepresented due to cost, racism, immigration status, language access, lack of access to transportation, and other barriers. These are drop-in and multi-week classes offered by Grubstreet at your Boston Public Library neighborhood branches! 

How to think sideways (Cost/Online) Here you’ll find writing classes, lively discussions in forums filled with writers who WRITE, and the answer to "How do I do that?" - Go to SHOP to see the classes. There is one free class on writing flash fiction. The others range in price from $10 to $700 depending on the course. The classes are in ebook formats (Kindle/ePub) and printable PDFs.

LitReactor - (Cost/OnlineWe bring in veteran authors and industry professionals to host classes covering a wide range of topics (from the writing craft to finding an agent) in an online environment that’s interactive and flexible. You get detailed feedback on your work and take part in discussions in a judgement-free zone. 

Master Class (Cost/Online) Take video-based writing classes with best-selling authors like James Patterson, Judy Blume, R.L. Stine, Margaret Atwood, and others.  

Peer 2 Peer University - (Free/Local) P2PU is a non-profit organization that helps get free online classes into the classroom setting. These are known as Learning Circles, where a facilitator helps students learn a specific topic, such as creative writing or computer coding. Check the class listings to see what is on offer or tell your community center or library that you're interested in a class.  

Skillshare - (Cost & Free Trial/Online) These classes cover a wide variety of topics such as character driven stories and steps to a successful writing habit. They are also taught by published authors such as Roxane Gay, Simon Van Booy, Daniel Jose Older, and Yiyun Li.

Writer’s Digest University (Cost/Online) Whether you’re writing for publication, extra money, or to tell personal stories, Writer’s Digest University can help you get your writing career underway. Our expert instructors will provide advice, specific instruction, real-world experience, expertise, and the motivation and drive to help you achieve your goals.

The Writers’ Loft - (Cost/Local) The Writers’ Loft is a non-profit community which helps local writers foster their creativity, strengthen their spirit and grow professionally by providing them with quiet writing space, educational programs, opportunities to connect with supportive colleagues, and access to industry experts, as well as opportunities to give back to the greater writing community.   

Choose the Right Critique Group for You

 

Reasons to join a critique group

  • You're looking for feedback in order to improve your work and possibly get published
  • Share support, motivation, and a passion for writing with a long-term working group
  • Discuss pitching, querying, and publishing insights
  • Having a group at your back with deadlines helps to keep you accountable
  • Meet and work with writers who share a love of your genre

 

Know the types of groups first

There are four major types of groups, but they do not have to be exclusive of each other, as some groups may want to combine elements of two or more.

Writing groups A writing group is traditionally a group of people who get together to write in the same space at the same time, and in general, keep each other motivated to get words down on paper. Keep in mind that many times a group labeled as a writing group could very well be a critique group as well.

Critique Groups - A critique group will usually do their writing on their own time and then come together to read what they've worked on and offer advice and critique the work. 

Social Groups - These groups exist for writers to get together and talk about writing, whether it's about their own work, the way a publishing trend is going, how to market their upcoming book release, or anything in between.

Accountability Groups - Members will write on their own time and use the meetings as a deadline. The group is used to keep writers motivated and accountable for their work. They will check in with other group members to see where everyone is in writing and whether they're reaching their goals or are falling behind. Members can also read their work at meetings or use the time for other discussions on writing.

 

What to consider when looking for a group

  • Do you need motivation to keep writing or are you looking for feedback on your work? 
  • What are you looking for from a writing or critique group? 
    •  This is often based on where you feel you are with your writing and how much help you need to improve your work. 
    • Where do you think you will be in the future, in terms of how much work and effort you're willing to put in. Will you still need a group in six months? Will you quit once your book is published? Or do you have another book idea waiting in the wings? Or are you just starting your book journey?  
  • How much writing can you produce in a given amount of time to meet your group's demands?
    • Always err on the conservative side, because life happens, and sometimes the muse won't talk to you.
  • How much time can you devote to reading other people's manuscripts?
    • Remember that if you join a group, you will be expected to read and critique others' work on your own time, while also carving out time to write your own book. 
  • How easy will it be to attend regular group meetings?
    • Do you live or work near the meeting location? 
    • Does your free time line up with meeting dates and times?
  • What type of group are you interested in joining?
    • An In-person group, where you're in the same room with everyone, or an online group, where you submit your work to the group and get it back electronically? 
    • A Genre specific group, where everyone is interested in the same subject or genre (think science fiction or teen fiction), or a more general group where you might get a mix of genres?
      • It helps to know what you're writing. If you're not sure of your genre, or age range, or if you like to read a wide variety of things, try a general group. Keep in mind that in a general group, they may not know the intricacies of your genre if you're the only one who writes in that genre.
    • An open group where new members are always welcome or a closed group where you're working with the same people at every meeting? 
Join a Critique Group

 

Local groups

Asian American Resource Workshop Writers Group – (Cost) A hub for both accomplished writers as well as budding writers alike as a safe space to refine their craft. Members come together on a regular basis to share and discuss writings & ideas, get and provide support, and practice exercises to keep writing skills fresh.

Boston Athenaeum Writers’ Workshop –  (Cost) It’s time to come up for air, commune with other writers, and discuss the work in an informal and encouraging atmosphere. Writers of all stripes are welcome! 

Cambridge Writers’ Workshop – (Cost/Local & Online) All writers from novices to professionals, who are looking for a serious writing community, are welcome to join the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, which includes online creative writing courses and writing retreats.

Writing Meetups in Boston (Free & Cost) Many local writing groups use meetup.com to get together. Use this link to find writing groups not seen on this list, from casual writers to more serious critique groups, in and around Boston. 

Warrior Writers – (Free) Warrior Writers is a national non-profit. Our mission is to create a culture that articulates veterans’ experiences, build a collaborative community for artistic expression, and bear witness to war and the full range of military experiences. Check the Events page for Boston area programs.

The Writers’ Loft -  (Cost) The Writers’ Loft is a non-profit community which helps local writers foster their creativity, strengthen their spirit and grow professionally by providing them with a quiet writing space, educational programs, opportunities to connect with supportive colleagues, and access to industry experts, as well as opportunities to give back to the greater writing community.   

Writers Room of Boston – (Cost) Founded in 1988, the Writers' Room of Boston is a nonprofit organization that functions as an urban writers' retreat committed to providing a quiet, affordable, and secure workspace for emerging and established writers. Members can choose to meet regularly for readings, community gatherings and events. Periodic readings of the members' work are organized and open to the public.

Writers Rumpus – (Free) A critique group in Andover, MA and blog for children’s, middle grade, and young adult authors.

Writers Without Margins – (Free) Our mission is to expand access to the literary arts for unheard and under-resourced communities in Greater Boston — including those isolated by the challenges of addiction recovery, trauma, poverty, disability, and mental illness — through free, collaborative, writing workshops, public readings, and publication opportunities intended to empower community, amplify the voices of individuals, and to share stories with the world.

 

Online groups

Critique.org  (Free) Workshops focus on in-depth critiques of your works, a process which helps both the recipient and the reviewer to grow. In addition to depth of analysis, much of critique.org's secret is our emphasis on respectful and diplomatic critiques.

Critique Circle - (Free & Cost) Critique and be critiqued online. By critiquing work by others, you earn credits which allow you to post your own work for critique. 

Facebook - (Free) There are many writing groups on Facebook, for all of your whims and desires.  

Goodreads - (Free) It's easy talk about books on Goodreads in their Groups area, whether you wrote them or you've just read them and want to recommend them to others. 

Google Groups - (Free) Allows you to create and participate in online forums and email-based groups with a rich experience for community conversations.

Groups.io - (Free trial & Cost) Email Groups. Supercharged. A modern platform for serious communities. Powerful management tools. Mobile ready. No ads, no tracking.

Inked Voices (Free) A platform for writing groups and an online space for writers.

Scribophile (Free & Cost Accounts) A respectful online writing workshop and writer's community where writers of all skill levels join to improve each other's work with thoughtful critiques and by sharing their writing experience. 

Writer'sCafe - (Free) Post your poetry, short stories, novels, scripts, and screenplays. Get reviews and advice from thousands of other writers, enter hundreds of free writing contests, join writing groups or start your own, take and subscribe to free online writing courses, and more.

Writing.com - (Free & Cost) Welcomes writers of all interests and skill levels. Whether you're a writer looking for the perfect place to store and display your poetry, stories and other writing or a reader willing to offer feedback for our writers and their writings, this is the website for you. Meet and bond with fresh creative minds!

Start Your Own Critique Group

 

Reasons to start your own group

It may be that there isn't a writing group in your area or that the groups near you don't meet your needs. But you need to be interested in helping other writers improve their work just as much as you're interested in having others help you improve yours. This should always be your top reason to start your own group. No writing group exists to help only one person. 

If you don't have the time to help others right now, but still want feedback on your work, consider hiring an editor or find some beta readers. See the Finding an Editor tab under Publishing, for more information. 

 

Tips for starting a local group that meets in-person

Time: 

  • Make sure you have the time to run a group, write your own work, and read & critique everyone else's work. If time is an issue, joining an existing group might be better for you.

Location:

  • Will your group meet online or in-person?
  • If in-person, choose a location that everyone can get to easily by car or public transportation. Make sure it will work for any members who are handicapped. And if it's a restaurant, make sure it can handle everyone's dietary needs, if you know these things in advance.
  • Also keep your decibel level in mind. You'd be surprised, but a group of writers, when they get excited about their work and discussing the craft of writing, can get pretty loud. Make sure you choose a place that will be okay with however loud you end up.
  • If you are choosing a public place (such as a library, cafe, or bookstore), make sure you call ahead of time to ask if it's okay to bring a group of people in at a specific date and time. They may not be able to accommodate you and it's better to find out before you show up with ten people. They may also have requirements you need to follow, or forms to fill out. If it works out, let them know you'll be regulars there, so they are aware and can make appropriate arrangements, if need be. 
    • If you are interested in space at the Boston Public Library, you will find room use guidelines, forms to fill out, and contact information for our Events department on our website here: Reservable Community Spaces. Please note that these rooms are not intended for use as your organization's primary meeting place. 

Dates:

  • Choose a date and time that will work for everyone, and that you can keep consistent.
  • How often will you meet? Once a week? Once a month? Choose something that will work with everyone's schedules.

Mission Statement: 

  • Write a mission statement that addresses the purpose and parameters of the group that everyone can agree on.
  • Do you want to talk about writing, have time to write in a group setting, critique each other's work, or something else? 
  • Will you concentrate on a specific genre or topic?
  • What will the tone of the meetings be?
    • Some examples of language are: to support & encourage writing, guiding writers on the path to publication, to become stronger writers and editors, with an atmosphere of trust and caring writers can work to improve their manuscripts, to discuss the craft of writing...
  • This will help attract members you want and get you off to a good start.

Membership: 

  • Determine who you want to join your group, such as already published authors, or maybe you want to be open to everyone, regardless of where they are in their writing career.
  • To find new members, if you don't have anyone in mind already, you can use social media, an ad in the local paper, blog about it, post it on Meetup or Eventbrite, post fliers around town, or anything else you can think of.
  • Make sure you determine ahead of time how many members you want so you don't end up accepting more than you are comfortable working with. Remember, you'll need to read all of their work! But also remember that in the beginning days of your group there may be a high turnover rate as people determine if the group is a good fit for them.
  • Will your membership be closed? This way the decision to let new members join can fall to the group leader or new members can get put to a vote of the whole group. Or will it be an open group where all new members be allowed in without any obstacles anytime someone wants to join? 
    • Keep in mind if you keep membership open all the time, any time new members join you'll need to brief them on everyone's projects, which can get time consuming if new members don't stick around and more new members keep joining. 
    • Your membership might be open to a select group of people if you only discuss science fiction, or if your group is for people who have taken a specific class (so you guarantee everyone has had the same experience), or if members have to be nominated by a current member. This allows for an open membership, where there won't be as many people coming and going.

Leadership:

  • The group leadership role usually becomes a facilitator role once the group gets going.
  • As a leader, remember to keep to your commitments or explain to the group when something prevents you from doing so. This will inspire other group members to do the same and will help to keep everyone accountable.
  • If group participation starts to drop, speak up and ask the group, either privately or all together, if they're still interested. It might be that life is getting in the way, but they are still interested in being a member and speaking up about the lagging participation will inspire people to become active members again. It might be that you need to change the format of the group or the number of meetings you hold. But if you don't say anything, the problem will persist.
  • The leader may have to cut members loose if it's not working out for that person and the group. It's not fun, but someone has to do it, if it becomes necessary.

Submissions:

  • How much of their work should writers submit for critique at one time? (1-2 chapters, 5-10 pages, or by word limit?) Keeping the amount the same for everyone keeps members from dominating the group's time if they submit ten pages while everyone else has submitted only two. 
  • To get good feedback, it is helpful for writers to ask for what they need based on where they are in their project. And it's helpful to add this to the document when submitting it. For example, if you are just starting your novel you may want to ask people to be on the lookout for plot holes, or weak characterization. If you're just starting the editing phase, you may ask people to look out for smaller things like continuity issues, or even smaller things like grammar and spelling mistakes.
  • Determine whether you will read your work at the group meetings for the first time, or if members need to email their work to each other ahead of time by a specific date, say one week before the meeting, to give others a chance to read and review it.
  • Will there be a trial period for new members where they will be required to only review others' works for a time before they can submit their own? This is a great way for everyone to determine if the new member is a good fit without the new person just getting the feedback they need on their own work and not sticking around.

Meeting Format:

  • If the work is shared during the meeting for the first time, everyone should get a printed copy. Then someone will either read it aloud, or everyone will read silently. The copies will get marked up and returned to the author, and verbal comments will also be made.
  • If the work is shared ahead of time, reviewers can email a marked up copy back to the author or bring a marked up printed copy to give them in-person. The meeting time is then used for discussion and critique of the work.
  • How many writers will critique at the meeting? Will everyone get a chance at every meeting or will it rotate between members? 
  • Will critique happen one-on-one with the group pairing up and rotating during the meeting or as one large group?
  • How long will the meeting last? 

Feedback Format:

  • Having a set format makes critiques feel like less of an attack on the writer when they know what to expect. See the two articles linked below for more critique guidelines.
  • Will reviewers be allowed a specific amount of time to talk? Two minutes, as an example, cuts down on long winded diatribes.
  • Some groups refuse to let the writer talk while the work is being critiqued so that they can't defend it and make excuses for decisions they've made. Once the critique is over then the writer can ask clarifying questions or respond however they need to. This can help keep things civil as well as keep the meeting to the desired length and flow without awkwardness.
  • Will reviewers need to comment on something they liked as well as something they didn't, or will that not matter?
  • Remember that if time limits are used, someone will need to keep track of the time during meetings.

Communication: 

  • How will you communicate with each other outside of the meeting? Via email? A Yahoo! Group? Facebook? Goodreads?

Change Happens:

  • Remember that as groups grow and develop, things may change and you may need to revisit these steps.
  • It will also take a while, perhaps even up to a year, for your group to settle into itself with a core group of regulars that are comfortable working with each other. Patience is key.

Other things your group can do once you're set up:

  • Write a blog
  • Bring in speakers
  • Schedule an open mic night at a local coffee house to share your work
  • Celebrate members' successes

 

Online places to start your own group

See the Join a Critique Group tab, for websites that can host your group online as well as this list, which may overlap.

Discord - Create a free chat space, known as a "server", where you can have multiple channels to discuss different topics as well as video and audio channels. 

Etherpad - Open source space that works very similar to Google Docs, and can include a video option as well.

Facebook Groups - There are many book groups on Facebook, and it's easy to start your own here as well.  

Goodreads - It's easy talk about books on Goodreads in their Groups area, and they have a poll feature that makes voting on your next read super easy! 

Google Groups - If you're comfortable connecting via email, try searching Google for online groups.

Groups.io - (Free trial & cost) Email Groups. Supercharged. A modern platform for serious communities. Powerful management tools. Mobile ready. No ads, no tracking.

Google Meet - Free video chat meeting space. It's easy to start a video and invite others to join or schedule something in advance!

Inked Voices - (Free trial & Cost) A platform specifically geared for small writing groups and workshops to collaborate intimately despite distance and strange schedules. 

Jitsi Meet - A free, open source video chat platform. Simply type in the title of your meeting and you'll have an everygreen link you can keep forever! 

Proboards - A free forum hosting service, where you can create your own forum and keep your discussions organized.

Slack - This app works on iOS, Android, PC, and MAC and is a free forum where you can set up discussion threads, add photos and documents and easily set up meetings and decide what you're reading next!

Zoom - This is a video chat platform that lets you have meetings up to 40 minutes for free. 

 

Ways to critique

Here are a couple of articles on how to write a critique that you may find helpful for your group.

Writing Groups: How to Write a Constructive Critique by Mandy Wallace

Thoughts on Writing #12: Good Critique, Bad Critique by Seanan McGuire