BUT, and this is a big but, I’ve also seen promising writers almost destroyed through the critique process. It’s not just those groups that seek to build themselves up by putting others down that are the most dangerous, but even well-meaning groups can also destroy a story if you don’t approach the suggestions wisely.
Here are some things to look out for, in a critique partner, a group, and yourself.
People who want to build themselves up by putting others down. I don’t mind being told when I’ve got areas to improve, but someone showing off by putting me down isn’t something I tolerate.
- Individuals who tell you there are absolute rules in the world of publishing. Truthfully, the words ALWAYS and NEVER rarely have anything to do with the real world of publishing.
- People who make personal comments without any specific suggestions. There isn’t anything helpful with comments like, “I just don’t care for the flavor of this scene.” Or even, “You’re really not a very good writer.” (I’ve actually been at a crit group meeting where someone said that.) Look for people who can give you specific feedback and suggest ways to improve. This goes for positive comments as well as negative ones.
- Those in the group who always participate in critiquing, but never bring anything to have critiqued. If I’m going to attend a critique group, I expect everyone to participate. Not every time, but often enough to let me know they are also working at improving their own work.
- Individuals who only have something nice to say. I appreciate that it’s hard to tell someone something isn’t working. But unless I get some truthful feedback I’m not going to improve.
Finally, I want to warn you about something you might be tempted to do when you get feedback. I’ve seen promising writers who accept everything said in a critique, to the point where they let others dilute their voice and destroy their work.
I’ve been too stubborn to have had this happen to me personally, but I’ve seen it happen—and the result isn’t pretty. Sure we should listen and evaluate what a critique partner says, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree.
How about you? What have been some of your experiences with critiques?
Edie Melson is the bestselling author of Social Media Marketing for Writers and a devotional for military families, Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home When Your Soldier Leaves for Battle. She is a prolific freelance writer, editor, and co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, as well a faculty member at numerous others. Visit her popular writing blog, The Write Conversation.
To make reservations for the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writer's Conference, call 1.800.588.7222.