Choose the right group for you. That may mean visiting several groups, but do give each one more than one visit. Some groups change weekly depending on its attendees and the work they bring to the table. Consider first whether you want to work with writers within your genre or whether a mixed genre group would work for you.
There are pros and cons to each type of group. When you are a young writer, being among other writers in your genre can teach you the unwritten rules of that genre. However, being in a mixed group protects you from working with plot lines or characters that might be too similar to your work. Mixed groups can give you a more varied critique of your work.
Ask about the format the group employs. Do you bring work and read and critique it at the meeting, take others’ work home to critique between meetings, or exchange work by email or online. How much work should you bring to the group at one time? How often does the group meet and how much time is allotted to each member’s work?
Participate fully. When you ask someone to critique your work, you must be willing to look at theirs. You can always ask whether you can visit for several meetings before sharing your work if you are nervous about being new to the group. But once you become familiar with the format and flow of the group, you should submit your work. Do not be concerned about someone “stealing” your idea. It is far more likely you will gain new ideas than lose any.
Consider your expectations of the experience. Do you want line-by-line critiques, or a general review? Are you looking for help with plot, characterization or grammar? Ask for what you need. And, don’t become discouraged by what you get. “Going easy” does not do you any favors because you want to have the perfect submission ready for an editor or agent.
The object of receiving or giving a critique is to correct and polish the writing, not wound the writer. Try to be honest and tactful, and give encouragement and praise whenever appropriate. Trust your critiques to be the same, sincere and helpful, always keeping in mind that a critique is one person’s opinion. You are still the owner and author of the work, and you can always reject the critiquer’s comments. If you do receive a critique you don’t agree with, don’t be quick to defend your work. Let the dust settle first, wait a few days and re-consider the comments. If you still don’t agree, you can choose to ignore them. However, if more than one reviewer makes the same comments, you should probably consider incorporating some changes in the work.
Working with a critique group can be a positive, growing experience helping you to perfect your work and improve as a writer.