I am a member of two critique groups. In both groups, people take turns presenting some of their work. They distribute paper copies of the piece to be critiqued, then read their work out loud to the group. Once the writer has finished reading, the rest of us offer up comments and suggestions. Usually the feedback is verbal, supplemented with a few brief notes scribbled on the pages we were given. Most people make an effort to be kind and constructive in their feedback. Nevertheless, I think it’s important to
- wear your ‘big girl’ panties when you are being critiqued (in other words, don’t be overly sensitive about your Very Important Writing)
- consider the source (some comments, however well-intentioned, seem to miss the point)
- remember that the biases people have in life tend to find their way into their perspectives on writing (recently I read a section of one chapter from a novel-in-progress at a critique group. In it, a character makes a wisecrack about necrophilia– “don’t call me a necro; you make it sound like I fuck corpses.” A young man in the group told me I should “watch it” and also that I should “be careful.” I wonder what he thinks I need to be wary of? Perhaps this is merely a subset of bullet point two).
Here are some ways critique groups have benefited me so far:
- they provide instant feedback on whether the funny parts are funny, and whether the scary parts are scary
- they help me see my mistakes and annoying writerly habits
- they help me put my finger on what is not working, and give suggestions as to how I might fix it
I am grateful for the feedback of the other writers, even the feedback that annoys or upsets me. You can be grateful through gritted teeth, right? That is where the growth is, in all the tender places that hurt when you poke at them.