Feedback Nightmares: When You Want to Quote Shakespeare

Critique groups, they say, are an essential part of a writer’s apprenticeship. We all desire to have a “good eye.” Yet if you write all alone in a garret, chain-smoking and chugging coffee, you might never meet the friends who at times are you worst enemy. Some of the critique groups from hell I’ve been a part of have driven me into therapy or at least into the fetal position. Seems to me there are a few “types” we “typers” ought to avoid.
  • The Hatchet Lady. I actually belonged to a group where the members bestowed yours truly with this title. I thought I was doing these writers a favor by pointing out structural issues that required a lot of rearranging. I learned this technique from a writer who used it on me weekly, until I couldn’t stand up. So I thought it fair that I pass on these pearls of wisdom. Instead, they accused me of being an ax murderer. But we all know at least one of these writers, who specialize in ripping your work to shreds. In that group I was about as popular as the plague.
  • The Nay-sayer. This type of critiquer hates everything you (or rather I) write. She has a prepared speech to rub in the error of our ways, one that ignores writing and instead goes to that person’s favored social or political bent. This person also often says, “Well! I don’t think your character would do that!” Or, as happened to me once, calls you a week later to offer suggestions. “You know that rabbit in your chapter last week?” She croons. “I was thinking you ought to make it a nutria instead.” Worse still, I once brought in a religious piece I was working on to a “secular” group and one member exclaimed, “I can’t critique this. I’m an atheist!”
  • The NitPicker. We’ve all had groups where one or more members–despite the repeated reminders not to pick nits–insists on giving everyone a grammar and spelling lesson. Comma splices, run-on sentences or misplaced semi-colons (that’s a terrible picture, isn’t it?) get center stage as the Nitpicker drones on, correcting (always in red!) our tiniest errors. Once I was so mad at a Nitpicker that the very next week I brought in a paragraph written by a giant of literature, not so much to pass myself off or plagiarize, but to see what she’d do. Sure enough, she sucked the life out of a bit of brilliant prose. I felt guilty, but it confirmed my suspicions: never trust ANYONE with a RED PEN.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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