Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Are You A Critter?

I'm a proponent of critique groups, but I put a condition on that statement. I am in favor of critique groups if they give writers fair and honest opinions and offer suggestions to make a piece of writing better.

Sadly, many people become members of critique groups that say wonderful things about everybody's writing. Sure, it makes the writer feel good, but it doesn't help them grow as a writer. They go blithely on, making the same kind of mistakes because no one has told them differently. At the same time, they can't understand why none of their submissions are accepted by the many editors they've sent to.

If the other writers who critqued them had pointed out the weaknesses, the writer could have corrected those areas, ending up with a stronger, better piece of writing.

But back to those 'critter' groups that do give helpful critiques. If you join a crit group that gives honest opinions, you open yourself to possible hurt feelings. But that doesn't have to happen. Let's look at a writer named Joy Morningsong.

Joy is new to the writing world, and she joins a critque group wanting to learn and become a better writer. She dashes off a short story for her first submission. She's happy with the story, thinks it is cute and has a surprise ending. They'll love it, she tells herself. She e-mails her submission to the group site and sits back to wait for the praise she's sure will be coming her way.

When the critiques come, they are not at all favorable. Oh yes, they tell her that it's basically a cute story and they liked the surprise in the end, but the problems they encountered in the story become a long list. And when one critter after another repeats the same problems, Joy Morningsong is not a happy camper. She becomes irritated at first, then very hurt. "Who needs them?" she says as she storms out of the house to walk off her anger. When she gets home, she fires off a resignation to the group moderator. She's going to find a group that likes her work, not stay with these cruel people.

If Joy had stepped back and worked on attitude, she'd have profited greatly from the criticisms of her story. Attitude is the key word here. To have success in being in a critique group, a writer has to learn to take every criticism as a part of the learning process. Each time she sees what is wrong and makes an attempt to correct it, it's growth. It's not fun to be shown what you've done wrong, but a writer will never grow unless she accepts the criticism as a tool meant to help, not hurt.

I've been in two online critique groups, and I've had lots of sharp criticism through the years. I'm very grateful that these good critters have given me the kind of advice I needed to become a published writer. Seeing your work through other peoples' eyes can be most enlightening. So, I would urge writers to join a critique group, but only if you're willing to be told what's wrong with your work and how you can make it better.

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