1. You get along. The other day a man from New York told me that the people you can say ‘eff you’ to and still be cool with are your real friends. Hopefully your writing group hasn’t reached that level of vernacular quite yet, but people take criticism a lot better when it’s coming from someone they like (read: don’t don’t like). In critiquing, there is a way to frame things so as not to come off as attacking, and to clearly show that your suggestions are merely your opinion (as everything in writing is opinion–there are no rules). Still, you don’t want to be too anxious about offending the other person, or have your personal qualms interfere with the sincerity and helpfulness of the critique. Having a group where people get along and feel comfortable around is important. It allows you to focus on what matters: the writing, and telling the truth. It might take a while to develop, but you should know if there’s a compatibility problem.
2. You’re on the same level. Or in the same range. It can be beneficial to work with people who are more experienced and more polished in their craft than you, but what about that other person? While everyone else in the group is focusing on grammar, word choice, and effective imagery, one person could desperately want to have a deep conversation about character development, gender roles, and how to polish a theme. On the other hand, being in a group where no one else is focusing on the simpler aspects of writing that you still need to develop won’t be of much help either. You’ll have a more rewarding experience if you find a group of similarly skilled writers.
3. You have similar goals. Are you writing to improve/as practice? To get published? To submit to contests? Are you already published, and you’re in that stage where you’re trying to maintain a level of success? Wherever you are, you should sinc with your writing group. Critiquing for publication has different elements than critiquing on writing ability. As with #2, you want to make sure you get what you need from your writing group, and that will only happen if everyone is on the same page.
4. You have compatible schedules. It is important to build a relationship with your writing peers, both to feel comfortable with critiques (#1) and to learn eachother’s writing style. What they do well, what they do not so well, that sort of stuff. Someone who read a ton of your writing will most likely be able to give a more useful critique than someone who hasn’t. Also, when a group dynamic is established that works, you want to hold on to that for stability. All these things mean that a group that can barely find a time to meet or has haphazard attendance will not be able to progress as they should.
5. You have a leader/roles. This may not be as crucial as some of the other aspects, but my writing group, for example, greatly benefits from having someone ‘in charge.’ For example, when we decided that we would start applying to contests, the guy who put together our group researched which upcoming ones would be good for applying and then created a schedule for when stories would be completed and submitted to the group for review. Also, a good leader should recognize certain issues that arise in the group, like not having enough time to give equal attention to everyone, or suggesting reaching out for more members when current ones drop off. One person doesn’t necessarily have to have these roles; it can be split up amongst the group. The important thing is to have someone thinking about these things, whether its one person or five.
6. You are diverse. Out of the five people in my writing group we have a 24 year old (me!), a 30-year old, a 40-year old, and two in their 50’s. We have three females, two males, two grandparents, one parent of toddlers, three who are married, one who’s engaged, another in a long-term relationship. One member owns her own company, another works in corporate, another does fitness competitions, and another is in medical school. Our genres represent fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, and romance. We have someone who’s from England, another who is of Latino descent, an African American, and Caucasians. It is very beneficial to have this diversity when different topics concerning validity arise in reviewing our writing. Not having a diverse group doesn’t necessarily mean it is a bad one, but different life perspectives is certainly a plus.
7. You all love to write. No-brainer.