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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Input

I remember the first time I attended a critique group. It was at the back of a Borders on 104th in Thornton. I had been careful (obsessively so) to follow the groups exacting instructions on formatting, printing, font and page count.

That night was the first time I shared any of my writing with anyone (I didn't even let my husband read my stuff back then).

On the drive there, my body shook. My legs felt like water and my stomach rolled over again and again. Maybe I wouldn't have the opportunity to read my pages--that would probably be for the best. Yes, surely there could be the chance that we would run out of time--I could make sure I was last--and I wouldn't have to read today. Maybe next time.

But there was plenty of time.

I did read, voice shaking, eyes darting frequently to the smattering of Border's customers browsing the Writing section we were camped in front of (oh God, were they listening?)

Then, thankfully, mercifully, I came to the end of my allotted 1200 words. I came to end and prepared myself to listen (silently as per their explicit instructions on how to accept critique) to what they had to say.

They said a lot. Some of it was dead on (and no, not just the good stuff.) Some of it was not helpful. And some of it I would need to think about when I had a moment to process what they were trying to get at. Like every other person who subjects themselves to this, the praise made me feel like I could fly and the criticism made cringe. Silently.

That's the hardest part about going through critique...you have to, at least outwardly, be open and accepting of it. The list of rules they provided me were valuable and I still use them--even when my agent and I were going back and forth with edits before submission. I don't think you should try to explain the parts someone is having difficulty with, especially in the middle of their suggestions. I don't think you should ever get, outwardly, defensive. I've seen this happen in the middle of a critique and it's just not a pretty sight. Come with your game face on. Sure, you're probably roiling inside but these people have taken time out of their lives to read your stuff, listen to what they have to say about it. After all, you did come here of your own accord and ask for it.

Now, having said all that, I don't think you should feel you have to listen to everything. For me it eventually became a gut instinct sort of thing. I always consider every piece of critique. Some of it I know right away is not very good advice. But some of it, some of it is like WOW! You are soooo right! Thank you, thank you. Also, if multiple people are having the same problem--auto fix for me. There's just no point in arguing the majority.

13 comments:

  1. We def. can't argue with the majority! And I've learned to look and see if it's a style difference b/t writers or a plot thing. Plot things are more important to deal with for me.

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  2. Great post! I think the most important thing about getting your work critiqued is finding people that you trust. And like you said, go with your gut.

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  3. Such a true post. It's so easy to react defensively and tell critiquers they didn't understand what you were trying to do. But it's so hard to judge our own work from the outside. We need to build a core of trusted buddies, as Renae says, to help us make our books as good as they can be.

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  4. Hi. Very interesting post. I definitely agree that when someone asks for critique, he/she should be prepared to accept good or bad, and then choose the suggestions to take into consideration.
    I never mind criticism. The only thing that would bother me is if someone is rude and makes it personal. I always want the truth from someone, even if I will not like it.
    Saying "it's good" when it sucks, in the fear of not hurting feelings, will never help the author. Readers are ruthless, and it's their right to be. So if my writing sucks, I want to know before getting it out to the readers. Because then, it will be too late and any reputation I would have, will be ruined from the beginning and no one will ever buy a book again from me. :)
    Thank you for the post

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  5. Good post, Becky. Something to consider, too, is that critiquers are just like readers--different strokes for different folks. That's why the writer has to be the one to make the final decision. But it's wise to pay attention to an area being critiqued. You might not agree with the problem, but that there is a problem that needs tightening shouldn't be discounted.

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  6. I haven't done a critique group yet, too chicken, but I had a beta reader read it before I gave it to anyone else and she was really good. I didn't argue or speak unless she asked a question, and there were some things that I got as she was about to explain them, because they were obvious when I looked at it that way. It's hard, though. Good post!

    Good luck with the rest of the A to Z Challenge!

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  7. Great points! I always have a tendency to want to explain things, because obviously that reader just didn't get it, but then I tell myself that if that reader didn't get, there are probably others who won't get it as well, so I do need to really consider what they're saying.

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  8. Great points. I'm not sure I'm brave enough to put myself out there in person just yet, but learning to accept critique, is, I know, a valuable tool. Thank you for sharing.

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  9. I think critique groups are extremely valuable. I belong to one and the input is very helpful. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  10. Great post. I definitely fix/change something if multiple people point something out. Sometimes though, you get totally different opinions on the same exact part. That's what always intriques me. :)

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  11. Hi Becky,

    Well, I haven't gotten that far, but thank you so much for the great advice. I was scrolling down; I'm sorry about the loss of your doggy.

    Hope things are going okay for you; I see that you haven't posted for a while. I'll pray for you today.

    Take care,

    Kathy M.

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  12. My crit group dismantled a long time ago. I would love to have any form of criticism at this point. Right now, I force my husband to read my work. And while he is brutally honest, he does not necessarily care for my type of writing.
    Great post. I'm now following you (not stalking) on Twitter and on your blog.

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  13. Here's to making it this far, congratulations! I have an award for you!!

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