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The wonderful James Maxey visited my WIP critique group this past weekend. He was remarkably generous with his time and experiences despite not feeling well.

During our conversation, we got on the topic of critique groups. James suggested you should leave a critique group after two years. The theory is that once you become too familiar with a person and their work, you can no longer be objective in your critique. When he said this, I thought “yeah, right” and moved on with the conversation. I didn’t think much of it. But – now I’m not so sure.

I think there some validity to what James was saying. I have been in several critique groups over the years, many of which have included rank beginners. Most of the beginners leave the groups. Critique is hard to take and if you are writing solely to express your creativity, you don’t need that type of abuse. Some people stick with it and learn. These people, and I include myself in this group, work hard and improve bit by bit. Their writing gets better. The other people in the group don’t always recognize that.

This got me thinking about a woman I know, let’s call her Cindy. When Cindy first joined the group we were both in, her stuff was pretty bad – POV shifts all over the place, bad grammar, really dumb plots. She’s listened to what people have said to her, read a pile of books on technique, and kept writing. Her latest effort is a compelling thriller that she could conceivably get published. Cindy had improved but she wasn’t getting any respect from the other people in the group. They judged her a hack when they first met her and couldn’t see beyond those first efforts. She eventually got tired of being picked on and left to form a group of her own. I recently ran into Cindy in the supermarket. She is doing well and is query agents. Those meanies in our old critique group are still getting together once a month to pat each other on the back and not producing much of anything.

What do you out there in the blog world think about setting a time limit on critique group participation? Do you think the critiques get sullied by past experience?