When Critique Groups Attack, Part I

Posted on July 18, 2009. Filed under: criticism, critique groups, feedback, memoir, novel writing |

What are your critique group pet peeves? Have you ever been hurt by a writer’s feedback? One of my most promising students attends a regular critique group. She often comments about how this zealous group of writers attacks something she wrote or otherwise rips her to shreds. She’s very professional about it, but I always think, “Wow, that had to hurt.” I remember the first time I was invited to attend a critique group full of well-published writers. I brought in work to critique and afterwards I kept telling people, “They had me for lunch.” That group tore apart my work, it’s true. At the time I smarted, but later accepted that they were trying to teach me important skills I needed to write publishable material.
I’ve also been in groups where one or more prima donnas took it upon themselves to judge what I was saying instead of the writing. I got the feeling the critiquer was more interested in looking smart than helping me. How can developing writers know the difference between a harsh but necessary crit and one that is too personal or even mean-spirited?
Writing Tip for Today: A good critique is always writing-centered. Whether you are giver or receiver of feedback, try to mix positives in with the negatives. Most of us will accept critique that is prefaced by some genuine praise. Psychoanalysis of the character a writer has created is presumptuous. When you give critique, phrase comments in ways that don’t directly attack the writer. For instance, by saying, “That stopped me” instead of “That was terrible,” you give the writer something to work on making clearer rather than judging him. What are some of your crit group pet peeves?
Tomorrow: The writer’s response to critique.

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