The Top 10 Worst Types of Critique Partners

Finding a good critique group is like internet dating. You have to be very patient and willing to endure a few (sometimes more than a few) bad encounters. Any good critique always starts with the positive, and there are so many good things to say about experiencing the group that works. It’s like having a deep conversation about one of your most favorite things in the whole world with your best friend/mentor/editor/cheerleader/mother all rolled into one. It’s also about learning from other people’s writing. You look forward to the session and, when you leave, you’re eager to get back to your WIP as quickly as possible.

If that’s not your overall feeling about participating in a critique group, then something may be wrong. So now to the critique part…

GIVEAWAY: Donna is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Sprunty won.)



Guest column by Donna Cooner, author, blogger, speaker,
and teacher currently living in Fort Collins, Colorado. A former
teacher and school administrator, she is a now a professor and
university administrator at Colorado State University. SKINNY
(Oct. 2012, Scholastic/EgmontUK), her debut novel, was selected
as one of five BEA young adult “buzz-worthy books of 2012.”



1. The Snob. There are likely to be different levels of experience and success in any writing group, but no one wants to participate in a group to feel inferior and intimidated. When I first moved to Colorado, and was trying to find a new critique group, I visited a group in Boulder. When I arrived I was told they had to vote on whether or not I would be “worthy” to join the group. I spent the whole time feeling like every comment, every word, was being judged. After the session was over, I went to the bathroom and was surprised to find, when I returned, the vote had occurred and I was invited to continue. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the same way about staying in the group. Awkward!

2. The Time Hog. If you have a group session that lasts two hours, she will always want to go first and will take 1:59 to talk about her WIP. Sometimes the Time Hog will even take other peoples’ critique time and still make it about her story.

3. The Retro. He hasn’t read a children’s book since he was a child. His stories are full of names like Suzie Squirrel and Tommy Tree. There are sometimes rainbows and unicorns involved and usually a strong moral message. The worst example of this was a story I once read called (and I’m not kidding) “The Tree who Wanted to Grow Up to be a Telephone Pole.”

(What to write in the BIO section of your queries.)

4. The Distractor. She wants to talk about anything and everything but writing. Her children started swim lessons last week, her mother-in-law is visiting Paris next month, it’s windy (cold, hot, rainy, etc.) outside, her favorite hairstylist is moving salons… you get the idea. She often has to leave the group session to take phone calls or return text messages. While I love the fact I’m more than just writing to my wonderful writing group, when we get down to business it’s ALL about the writing and that time is precious.

5. The Harsh Critic/The NiceyPiecey. These two go together. She’s just mean and never says anything positive. Just watching the face of the person being critiqued tells the story. It hurts. Nicey Piecey is just the opposite. EVERYTHING is wonderful and he never makes a suggestion for improvement–he can’t think of a thing to make it better. Ever. Hearing what’s not working is an important part of the critique process, but we also need to hear what IS working.

6. The Debater. She has a come back to every comment and suggestion for improvement. The result is that every critique session becomes an argument about why she did suchandsuch or why she didn’t write it that way. Of course, you are the ultimate boss of your own story and the editorial decisions are your own. That said, you can’t look over the shoulder of an editor or agent when they read your story and tell them why. The manuscript has to stand on it’s own without explanation.

7. The Picker. He always focuses on the little details to the exclusion of the things that really matter. Should you call it a “monster” or a “gargoyle”? Discuss. All of this, when what you really need to know is, if the thing is dead or still hiding in the closet!

8. The Sulker. After her turn to read, she spends the entire rest of the critique session with arms crossed, eating potato chips, and refusing to comment on anyone else’s manuscript. Something someone said didn’t sit right and now she’s closed down. We’ve all had those moments–at least emotionally–when it just hits us wrong. This person, however, ALWAYS reacts with sullen silence to any kind of criticism.

9. The Boss. He always knows what’s best for your story including what the climactic scene should be, how the story should end and even where you should submit your manuscript. While helpful suggestions should always be appreciated, he takes it from advice to orders.

10. The Sporadic. She shows up infrequently and randomly. Because she misses so many sessions, she often doesn’t know what people are working on and readers have to “catch her up” every time before they read.

(Why agents stop reading your first chapter.)

So that’s my top 10, but before name calling and crossing people off the list, it might be appropriate for a little reflection. The truth is, although I’m not proud of it, I’ve probably done most of these things at some point or other. The list serves as a reminder to not fall into these bad behaviors and to be the thoughtful kind of participant that others deserve.

Finding the right critique group is important for every phase of the writing life, so it’s okay to be picky. When all the personalities work, and everyone is focused on making each piece of writing shine, it’s a thing of beauty and well worth the effort.

GIVEAWAY: Donna is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Sprunty won.)



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27 thoughts on “The Top 10 Worst Types of Critique Partners

  1. Je55ieMullin5

    Thanks for this! I’ve actually been hesitant to join a writers group because I know these people are out there, but I just need to look for the right one! And, of course, be mindful that I don’t do any of these.

  2. mom3twins

    My last group had number 4, so we never got around to discussing our work. Number 4 usually goes along with another type-‘I haven’t really written anything, but I have a great idea for a book… ‘


    The list made me laugh, cringe and sigh. Everyone in a critique group, at some point, does one of the above.
    In my own group, we have found that a regular evaluation on the way we critique helped us to stay focused and productive. It’s hard to face our own bad habits, but in the end we are all investing time and energy and it is essential to make the critique time the best we can.
    Again, it’s a fun post to look at something not always funny.

  4. rhalltulip

    I went to a writers group one time, and while in the bathroom, I heard the people trashing me! My friend who brought me, defended me. “Give her a chance.” I heard him say. “She’s a good writer.” I had only been there about one hour! I think it wasn’t so much me they didn’t like, but that I was a friends with a woman they hated. I went back once. Now, I have a rule. I only go to public places. It’s not easy to overhear someone in a public toilet.

  5. CVenzon

    Whenever I read a list this like, I’ve learned to ask “Which one am I?” I’m glad to say I’ve avoided these extremes, but note traces of all of them in myself. Something to remember when it’s my turn to comment.

  6. Avikar

    It’s interesting to see this list and I wonder how often someone is seen a simple way simply because of the previous experience and training the other person had before they met up with their critique group.

    I’ve done critiques for friends via email for years. I learned and started expecting the focus to be on the things that need improved. We rarely left positives in the comments. And that was fine for the three of us. However, I’m not sure it worked too well for me when I tried giving a face-to-face critique to someone new. I think I came across as the Harsh Critic. I never meant to make the person feel bad, but I wanted to be honest about what I thought needed work. After the first critique with her, I tried adding positives but after so many years of focusing solely on ‘this needs fixed,’ positives are still not easy for me to come up with. But, I wonder if the person I critique saw me as The Boss. Often times I wouldn’t know how to explain how to fix an issue, so I’d try showing her to give her the idea…again something I’ve always done in my online critique. She seemed to take my suggestions, even when I told her they were simply suggestions, as commands and more than once sent me harsh and hurtful emails about my suggestions, letting me know I was completely wrong, that I didn’t live inside my head so of course the characters action in such and such a scene wouldn’t make sense to me… Such and such a person she showed it to says it’s perfect. It’s fine.

    She admits she’s never had anyone critique her work as deeply as I did before. But in some ways she felt like a debater/sulker to me.

    We both made mistakes. And we both agreed we weren’t the right people to critique each others work. I’m working on trying to find positives in peoples work. I find the negatives much easier than the positives, even in the best, published books. So, if I was a Harsh Critiquer/The Boss, I’ll hopefully dim that aspect of my personality down some.

  7. KHager

    I was in a group with a “debater” and every time you pointed out anything she would say, “There’s a reason it is that way,” with a smirk and so you’d move onto the next point of something confusing and were told, “there was yet another reason.”

  8. MWeinland

    I’m still looking for a good group! I hope I don’t meet too many of those people – or that I’m one of those people and don’t realize it! 🙂

  9. missnelso04

    I have to yet to join or establish a writing group. I’m still waiting for my shell to break open so I can pop out like a fluffy chick!

    Or maybe I can get by with my one writer friend. Here’s hoping!

  10. DOJohnson

    My most interesting critique partners: 1) Super-Snob – She only paid attention to the critique partners she favored – she’d take detailed and conspicuous notes from only certain people in the group and virtually ignore certain other people. 2) Oblivious – They would spend a great deal of time correcting grammar and spelling but give no input into plot, story, characterization, content, etc. 3) Finagler – She asked an acquaintance for an invitation to join our long-running group and was set up to join us during our Christmas gift-exchange meeting. She never showed up.

    I have loved my various writing groups over the years. Some of my critique partners are still the best of friends after almost 30 years.

  11. esparhawk

    The Debater is the one I just can’t tolerate. I’m a member of CC, and when people’s compulsory thank-you note contains more debate than gratitude, I unfriend them. What does that make me? The Impatient Jackass maybe? 😉

  12. Miss R.

    Interesting! I’ve never been involved in a formal critique group, but I definitely remember running across lots of Nicey Pieceys and the odd Picker in class peer reviews. It gets pretty frustrating after awhile.

  13. Renee Carter Hall

    All my experience so far has been with online crit groups, but you still run across most of these issues there — plus things like the “general discussion” forum prompting off-topic political/religious/what-have-you flamewars that then affect the overall tone of the group everywhere else. :/

  14. penney

    I enter each group with caution just because I have experience at some point the personalities you described. I have to keep an open mind to those people because at some point they may actually have something that I may gleaned from them. It is hard to not be judgmental to some responses though. I’ve learned that sometimes just not saying anything is better, then you’re not pulled into an uncomfortable situation. Thank you for you insight on critiquing groups it is very useful and your approach made it a pleasure to read. I found myself still thinking about it after a period of time.

  15. sharigreen

    Great post, both for looking at whether I’m in the right group for me, and for having a good hard look at myself as a critiquer. (I’m very lucky to have terrific critique partners! Such a godsend.)

  16. juliette19

    This is so timely! I just participated in a crit partner connection service and am now considering a dozen or so new crit partners, which can be confusing and overwhelming! This list will help me to always keep in mind what I’m looking for–and what I’m looking to avoid. Thanks!

  17. Danielle

    I feel quite lucky after reading the comments about the critque group I just joined. I tried posting my stuff on an online critque group that had members from all over the world and while some of the people were really helpful, a lot weren’t and I sort of forgot that the story is my story and I could pick and choose what I wanted to change.

    The group I’m in right now meets in person every other Tuesday night at a local restaurent and the structure of it seems really beneficial so far. We do have some of these people especially the kind that talk forever and who going over every little problem, grammar, plot, etc., on every single page to others who didn’t take the time to read of the stories submitted. The leader of the group tries to keep things moving along so what our group does, is only one person at a time speaks and we go around in a circle starting with the person to the left of the author. After that, the author can answer questions or give anything further insight and there is some general discussions that goes on. People are very respectful so even if something isn’t well-received by the group as a whole, the leader will tell the author to not get discouraged just because of this one particular story. We only critque 3 people’s stories at a time and we are encouraged to keep the word count to around 5,000 words. If something is a chapter of a book or has multiple parts, we are to give the group a heads up in the e-mail we send out with the attached story.

    Personally, a critque structure I found really helpful for giving feedback came out of an introductory creative writing class I took recently. The teacher wanted our reviews to be formatted where we give our overall impression of the piece, at least 2 suggestions for what the author did well, and at least 2 suggestions for areas of improvement because she said everyone does at least a couple of things well and can work on at least a couple of things. I use this when we are giving our in-person critques so as to not hog a lot of time but then I also do the comments to more specific things and more specific suggestions on the document itself and e-mail directly to the author after our meeting.

  18. myrtlebeachgirl

    This was GREAT– thank you for your honest (and funny) evaluations. I lived in Colorado a few years back and was a member of an incredible writer’s guild that met in the Denver Metro area. Critiques were always a part of the meetings, yet I was too chicken to ever bring my work to the table. I guess because of fear I’d run up on one or more of the types you mentioned. I’ve learned a lot about the value of constructive criticism since then and, if I do encounter a Snob or a Picker or a Boss, I’m still the one who decides what happens with my writing. Wish I had taken the chance!

  19. vrundell

    LOL–I’m forwarding this article for my critique group to read! I’m so thankful that we don’t have many of these types….and I’d have thought twice about joining a group that voted in its members, too!

    It’s intimidating to read one’s raw fiction. It’s even more intimidating to join a thriving group. I’ve heard some remark how they don’t want to come because they don’t feel as if they having anything good to offer–and my answer is the same: Nonsense! Come, listen, read, critique–we all get better with time and practice.

    There is an old saying: Steel sharpens steel. I’m glad the steel in my critique group is ready to sharpen my prose.

  20. Dale S. Rogers

    I think I’ve encountered almost every personality you just mentioned. It’s not easy to find the perfect critique group, so I just have to take everything with a great big grain of salt. Thanks for your thoughts!

  21. jlhuspek

    Been there, done that, and am STILL looking for a critique group. All I want is some honest suggestions, not a feast at the local bistro. If I am flummoxed by your writing and tell you so, I don’t want you to stomp your feet and tell me I’m stupid. I need some energetic and constructive criticism. I’m a big girl. I can take it.

    OK, off the rant. Thank you for this wonderful post.

    jlhuspek at msn dot com

  22. Lina Moder

    This is such an awesome list!! A great reminder to make sure your critique partners are all in this together, all trying to improve, in a supportive but constructive environment. If it’s not, if it just tears you down or makes you feel like you’re wasting time attending the meetings, then it takes away all the joy of returning to the work afterwards.

    And yes, people sometimes fall into these roles on an off day, but it’s important to make sure, like you said, that you don’t always act like that.

    Thank you:))

    linamoder at gmail dot com


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