Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Writer's group critiques

I was thrilled to hear that my writer’s group loved Samuel #6. But of course what that means is that they loved it in general. In specific they had many comments and suggestions. The good part was that the comments and suggestions were along the line that I had already figured needed to be done.

When you get critiques you have a few possibilities:

1) Everyone will love it and have nothing but glowing comments. Dream on! Has this ever happened in the history of writer’s groups? I can just hear Laura Lippman’s critique:  Jeez, Baltimore, Baltimore, Baltimore. Can’t  you ever write about anything else? Or how about Michael Connelly: Bosch is such a downer. I mean couldn’t the guy ever have a cheerful moment? How about Rhys Bowen: Georgie, get a job, for heaven’s sake! Always with the impoverished royalty bit.

I don’t care how brilliant a writer is, there are always going to be people who want their writing to be different. You have to be on the lookout for people who don’t like your voice, your topic, your setting, and so on and not be swayed from your intentions.. A really good member of a critique group will read a piece at face value, trying to put aside personal prejudices and to help the writer improve based on what she is trying to achieve.

2) Everyone will hate it and send you out the door and tell you never to return. Admit it: that’s what most writers are afraid of. But just like #1, that’s very unlikely. No one in the group may wholeheartedly like everything about what you’ve written, but most people will find something that appeals. One person may love the setting, another loves the plot, another the voice. And sometimes you will get a reader who truly loves what you’ve done. Yes, treasure that person, but remember, he isn’t the reader you will learn from. You learn from the reader who gets what you are trying to achieve and who gives you advice that will both support you and help you move toward your goal.

3) People will be divided down the middle. It used to drive me crazy when half my writer’s group would love what I had written and half would tear it to pieces. I didn’t want to ignore the critics, but I also didn’t want to throw out what I had written. I knew deep down that there was some good and some bad in my work, but how was I to know the difference?

The answer lies in listening carefully. Don’t just hear what you are afraid a critic is saying. And don’t just hear what you hoped a reader would appreciate. Listen to the actual words. Write down what people say. If necessary, ask them to clarify. And then let the work sit for a day or two.

And then trust your instinct. You may not want to admit that you knew all along that something needed another look, but you know deep down. You have that, “darn it, I thought that would slip by” moment. If you let it slip, you are doing yourself and the person who worked hard to help you a disservice. That’s why you are in a writer’s group, after all.

1 comment:

Maggie said...

Thanks, Terry, for your insightful post. The divided opinions hold true for the reviewers---sometimes I feel like I wrote two different stories with the same title and cover!