If you belong to a writer’s critique group for long, you’re bound to receive a critique that either upsets you, inflates you or plain confuses you. Maybe you receive conflicting advice from two or more writers whom you respect. Maybe everyone enthuses that you’re the greatest. Or you may suspect the feedback a member delivers has an ulterior motive. What is your next move?
Writing Tip for Today: Everyone has an opinion, and this is doubly true of writers–especially writers in a setting where constructive criticism is expected.But what should you do when you get nothing but accolades, one writer’s critique is in direct opposition to another’s, or worst of all, you suspect a critique-er doesn’t have your best interests at heart?
Mutual Admiration Society
You’ve read aloud or submitted a portion of your work for feedback. You brace yourself, fearing the rest of your colleagues will tear your words to pieces. But every person applauds the work. Should you feel elated? It depends. If this is your seventeenth draft of the material and your group has sent you to the drawing board again and again, then yes, celebrate. If you receive nothing but praise critique after critique, be wary: It’s not going to help you grow as a writer unless you’re challenged in some ways. A mutual admiration society can give writers an ego boost, but if you want to refine your skills, look for writers who will ask hard questions and stretch you as a writer. This is not to say a critique should reduce you to tears. Even the harshest feedback can be couched in respect and the premise that everyone involved wants to improve as a writer.
And what about writers who each give you opposite advice? When you receive feedback that clashes, it’s up to you to decide what you’ll do and not do to revise. Lean on your gut feelings, sure, but also consult other recently published books in your genre. Try asking for reader feedback outside of the group. I love and respect all my group’s members, but occasionally I disagree with their assessments. One quirk I’ve noted (and am not immune to myself) is the tendency for serious writers giving feedback to be adamant about certain writing techniques, rules or methods. It’s all good until a writer realizes that readers are hardly ever concerned about use of cliches, passive voice or the dreaded “ly” word. If two writers whom you greatly respect give you conflicting opinions, remember that these are opinions, not facts. It’s your work.
Clashing critiques wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the feedback that comes with a poison dart attached. Writer egos tend to be sensitive–after all, you’re putting your beliefs, your thoughts and your feelings out there for the world to judge. I’ve been a member of groups where jealousy over a writer’s success triggered spiteful crits, feedback intended to hurt the writer. I’ve seen a writer “get back at” another writer who had given a cutting critique the week before. Revenge Writer even ended her verbal feedback with, “How do you like it?” Abolishing such negative feelings is probably impossible, but a good moderator can gently steer the group back into more genial territory. Using the “Sandwich Method” can also be helpful–requiring all critiques to start with a positive, bring up areas of improvement and end with encouragement. After all, writer critique groups’ main mission should be to, like a rising tide, lift all boats.
What are some problems you’ve encountered in critique groups? How could a group potentially solve problems such as these?