I’ve been in a critique group for seven years. I’ve seen members come and go–sometimes the departures have not been under the best of terms. The mention of “casual” versus “professional” critique groups highlights one potential problem: Make certain everyone in the group agrees to the purpose of the group. Some writers aren’t interested in pursuing publication. They aren’t trying to develop a professional writing life. Some folks just want to get together with other people and talk about writing–and, oh yeah, maybe write a little bit.
One of the most vital elements for any critique group to thrive is TRUST. If writers trust one another, they’ll move past the “I love everything you write” level of critiquing to honest, helpful critique. I think every crit group goes through this starry-eyed phase at first. If it’s going to survive and benefit the members, the writers have to get comfortable with one another. We have to trust that other members are trying to help us become a better writer. This involves pointing out what works–and what doesn’t.
And, as an editor, I have to say that grammar, spelling and punctuation are important parts of critiquing. I might not mention each individual error, but I want a writer to be aware the errors are there. If a writer wants to get an acceptance letter, magazine articles need to be well-written, clean copy. I’ve experienced this from both sides of the editor’s desk. I think this is true for book writers too.