Random Thoughts: Writer’s Toolbox: Critique Groups II

So, you found a critique group and you have work ready for scrutiny. Now what?

Be prepared to hear things about your work that you won’t like. Do your best not to react to the feedback as if it is an attack on you, or the work. Because it isn’t. The people offering feedback have taken time out of their own week to read your work with the goal of helping you to make the work better. It helps if you remember that going in.

I’m not going to lie, the first round of this can be a bit of a shock. My advice here is to take it in and try not to react unless it is to ask for clarification. You’ve got to give yourself time to digest the input before you can make decisions based on it. What I like to do is wait until all the feedback is in and look at it as a whole before I integrate what’s there.

Some of it will be useful. Some of it won’t. That *might make you feel like you’ve wasted your time. You haven’t. I say this because if even one comment helps to make a better story, that is a win. If only one sentence is made more perfect than it was in your draft, that is a win. Nobody is there to make life harder for you, they are there to make your story better. (If they are there to make life harder for you, you are in the wrong place and should run away.)

Some things to expect that might be confusing…

1) Contradicting feedback: You might hear from different people that they want less or more of something on the same piece of prose. You might also hear contradicting rules for grammar. Not all of them are correct.

2) How *insert name here* would write the story: Someone wants to take your story and run with it in a totally different direction/genre/outcome.

How to handle #1: Do not panic. Wait until the results are in and see if multiple people say the same thing. If they do, they might be right. If it is all very different, you might not have to address the issue, although you should, as the author consider all of it. Consensus, when it comes to feedback, is not always correct over the course of a long piece. Always remember that you are the decision maker and that all of these things are just suggestions. When it comes to the grammar stuff I suggest consulting a grammar guide that you trust. When in doubt, always defer to Strunk and White.

How to handle #2: Try to remember that the reason the other person is suggesting you rewrite the entire thing to their personal taste is because they are engaged with the text, which means that you did something right. Then ignore it in favor of what you set out to do. A good critique should serve to strengthen the story you are writing, not the story someone else would write if they were in your shoes. The funny thing is that sometimes the same person who is guilty of this is also the same person who says the most helpful things in other areas of the work. Also consider if the departure point on the page versus what the person has in mind is a particularly weak/ineffective moment. Sometimes I find when people do this that is what’s happening.

Remember that everyone at the table is human, including yourself, and that you are all there for a shared goal. Keeping that in mind will keep the process a bit easier and make the group more productive.

Also important? Setting up ground rules, which I’ll address in another post.

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