Do You Know What You Want From a
So you've joined a writing group and the
other members and you have all agreed to read each other's stories and offer
your opinions. But do you really know what you want from critiques?
"Heck, yes! I want feedback! I've spent
many hours laboring over these words and I want to share them."
But let's stop a moment. For some, joining
a writing group and asking for critiques is not that hard. For others it
can be devastating. In either case it's imperative that you understand
exactly what you want to get out of the experience.
"Writing is very subjective." Do we really
know what this means? I understand the words. But the meaning of it truly
escaped me until recently. Put simply, it means that each and every person
who reads your work will feel differently about it and offer a different
opinion. You say, "Yeah, I know that. Of course!" But do you really
know it? I didn't. Time and time again, I'd give out my writing so that
people would tell me what's wrong with it -- so that I could improve it.
And you want to know the stupid thing? I believed them over me!
Now, don't get me wrong. It's always good
to get different perspectives on what you write, and critiques can be
essential for that. However, you can't blindly assume that someone else's
understanding of your idea is correct. You can't
change your perception to match theirs. If you do, then it becomes their
story, not yours.
The important thing in getting critiques is
a mindset -- your mindset. How you see the comments people offer you
can mean the difference between eagerly forging forward and despondently
giving up. Some people don't have any trouble with this concept at all;
it's in their nature. Others don't realize this and will go through one
critique group after another, waiting for the day that someone will tell
them they have enough talent to justify all this time they've been
spending. The sad truth is that for these people, that day will never
How do I know this? Because it's never
come for me. I've held off sending out proposals to sell for years because
subconsciously I figured someone would tell me when my writing has matured
enough to do so with guaranteed success. At some level, I looked for that
in every critique request I sent out and in every group I joined. But to
this day, no one has ever said, "Hey! This is perfect! I wouldn't change a
thing! Send this right away because it's gonna sell!" And the more
critiques I got, the more disappointed I became.
But this is my fault. Why? Because I
requested critiques for the wrong reason. I went looking for someone to
tell me something about my abilities. However, critiques are not about me.
They're about the project. Instead of letting critiques drive my rewrites,
I should have trusted my vision and looked at the feedback as merely gaining
a different pair of reading glasses.
Remember: No matter how complete you think
a piece is someone will always find something wrong. Don't
let that derail you. Instead, use those different perspectives to help you
see things you might not have been able to on your own.
Believe in your own work. Let critiques be
the gateway to new techniques, not the governing force for your revisions.
Most importantly, know exactly what you want to get from the exchange of
material. It's your work. You're in control. Don't be afraid to put
qualifiers on it if you need them. In the end, you'll be happier for it.