I’ve written before about how valuable writing critique groups can be. I’ve also written about when it might be time to move on from a group. Today’s post touches on one aspect of critique groups necessary to help members become better writers: trust.
While writing groups exist for various reasons, I want to focus on those that provide critiques. The expectation is that everyone shares what they’ve written to receive feedback so the work becomes publishable. We all would like to hear: “I couldn’t find anything wrong with it!” But in reality, someone, somewhere is NOT going to like what you’ve written. What better place to receive constructive criticism than in a quiet, controlled environment, and not on Goodreads or Publisher’s Weekly? The worst thing is to receive NO feedback on a critique because that doesn’t improve the writing. It only strokes the ego (which, at times, is sorely needed.)
But with that comes the trust part. Being part of a critique group is trusting that members are supplying honest opinions because they can accept criticism of their own work. When joining a group, the first question should be: “I want to publish my work. What do you plan on doing with yours?” Similar goals make for a more trustworthy experience.
I just recently ended my participation with a critique group (yes, another one.) The critiques and suggestions I received were helpful. On the flip side, my suggestions were met with defensive posturing and attitude. Which is fine. I understand that we writers are fiercely protective about our work, and criticism, no matter how helpful, always feels like a shot in the gut. But if you can’t take criticism, how can I trust that you’re just not feeding me a bunch of bull about mine? Unwillingness to accept criticism as-is tells me that you aren’t receptive to growing your craft. If a writer can’t listen to and digest comments from readers, how does one expect to work with editors and publishers who are going to do the same thing (assuming one is going the traditional route. Self-publishing is a whole other matter.) How can writers trust critique group members with identifying issues if they can’t/don’t recognize it in their own?
Let’s insert some etiquette here. Not all criticism is helpful. What one person doesn’t understand might be crystal clear to everyone else. Take what’s needed and discard the rest.
But it’s all in how it is done.
Smile. Nod. Make a note in the margins on how useless the comment was. Don’t defend unless clarification is sought. Don’t make someone’s comment and contribution seem irrelevant or dumb. Time was taken to review and comment on the work, so respect that and move on. Trust that the group only wants success for everyone.
If the trust isn’t there, neither should you be.