Writerly Wednesdays

Real Cowboys Don’t Share

In the early days of ICW, my first novel attempt included a scene where two cowboys met in a café. They each ordered coffee but decided they didn’t need a whole cinnamon roll, so they split one. Peter Leavell’s pithy reaction? Real cowboys don’t share cinnamon rolls!!!

Years later, that line still makes me laugh. But there you have it—six words that explain why we writers need critique groups.

Thanks to my husband’s job transfers, I’ve participated in several critique groups around the West. I’ve reviewed all kinds of raw writing and submitted my share. In the midst of the good, the bad and the ugly—my submissions included—I have learned so much.

Writing classes, seminars and conferences, along with how-to-write books, magazines and podcasts have all aided my journey to publication. Yet, the hands-on interaction I’ve found in crit groups can’t be beat. Not only is the input for one’s own writing helpful, members hear what others have to say about each submission and get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. Observations regarding content, logic, style, description, rhythm, flow, sentence and paragraph structure, composition strengths and weaknesses, and of course, grammar and punctuation, provide insight into our own work.

Both receiving and providing critiques has been beneficial for me. When I review group members’ submissions, I see where my own writing is weak. If a fellow author uses the same word or sentence structure over and over, I’m more aware of my similar habits. If a story is mostly telling not showing, I watch for that in my work. If a description seems endless and/or overdone, I consider my own lengthy descriptions.

As I do a final (I hope!) revision of my current novel, I run across sentences, descriptions and scenes that were greatly improved by crit-group feedback, both negative and positive. And I am grateful! Which brings me to the writers’ maxim you’ve probably all heard: Writers must develop thick skins. The thinking, I assume, is that “thick skins” will help us withstand criticism.

But maybe we should say “thin skins” to indicate openness to criticism.

Criticism in any form is hard to swallow, but I heard someone say, even if a criticism is wrong, we can learn from it. When we birth a piece of writing from our brains (how amazing is that?!), it’s our “baby,” and we want to protect it. But babies only grow and flourish if they’re nourished. One way to nourish our stories and allow them to become all they can be is to be receptive to critical input.

Crit groups are beneficial, because they get us out of our own heads. My group is blessed to have members with different strengths. Some see the big picture, including plot holes, some see details that might include grammar, punctuation, and rough sentence structure, while others are great at assessing dialogue or scene development and content flow.

But the very best benefit of a crit group, especially a faith-based group, is camaraderie. What a joy to spend time with like-minded individuals who love the Lord and share a desire to draw others to God’s love and salvation through their writing. In addition to reviewing submissions, my crit partners encourage one another, exchange favorite books and writing advice, celebrate personal and publishing victories, and pray for each other and our families.

Some experienced authors write “clean” enough that they can bypass a crit group and submit directly to an editor. Other writers have friends and family members who can provide quality feedback. You know your own unique needs.

That said, I encourage you to partner with at least one ICW member for Christian fellowship and author camaraderie, even if you don’t critique each other’s work. Invite a member to meet for coffee or to take a walk together. Believers share God’s Holy Spirit, whom we trust to guide our paths and inspire our writing. One way for Him to guide and inspire is through other believers. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

I’ve met so many amazing writers through ICW. They’re brilliant, tenacious, thoughtful, encouraging, fun—and always willing to share their knowledge and a good laugh as well as prayer when needed. I’m convinced you can find a writing pal or two or three in this group to journey with you along your path to publication.

The ultimate goal of a critique group is to help members produce quality writing, so I’ll leave you with an old poem my mother liked to quote.

Good, better, best

Never let it rest

’Til the good is better

And the better is best!

ICW’s March 12, 2024 Monthly Meeting Will Be Devoted to Critique Groups

Join Becky and other experienced ICW Critiquers to learn all the ins and outs, including:

  • Brainstorming
  • The difference between criticism and constructive criticism
  • Personalities and how they mesh (or sometimes don’t)
  • Starting a group and keeping it alive
  • The phases of critique groups

And so much more! (Go to the “Get Involved” section of this website to find dates, locations and times of all meetings and events.)

Not all views expressed are those of every member of ICW.


  • Rebecca Carey Lyles

    Becky Lyles lives with her husband, Steve, in Boise, Idaho, where she serves as an editor and as a mentor for aspiring authors. In addition to writing nonfiction, she writes award-winning fiction and has two published series—The Kate Neilson Series and Prisoners of Hope Series—plus the first book in a new series titled Children of the Light. She also hosts a podcast with Steve called “Let Me Tell You a Story.” Learn about Becky, her books and the podcast at beckylyles.com. You can contact her at beckylyles@beckylyles.com.

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