A writing group can help us grow as writers, and feedback sessions help us polish our writing to send out to markets. But not all feedback sessions are equal.
When a work needs serious revision, we want to be told by our writing group members – but in an honest and respectful manner. That doesn’t always happen in a feedback session. I’ve been attending writing classes and groups since the mid-1990s. Sometimes, even when you have strong ties to other group members, you may receive a critique that hurts. It happens. Most of us wear our hearts on our page, so to speak, and it can hurt when someone doesn’t understand – or like – our work.
We also tend to hear the negatives more than the positives. For me, learning to deal with critiques has a steep learning curve. Some 20 years ago, as a result of an offhand remark in a class – “It’s more of a character sketch than a story” – I put one of my stories in a box in the basement. Ten years later, I took it out, dusted it off, and sent it to an editor who offered feedback. The editor loved it and decided to publish it. Lesson learned: if I don’t believe in my writing, who will?
I’ve given and taken poorly handled critiques, and I’d like to talk about some ways I’ve learned to deal with it – although I’m still learning through trial and error, after almost 20 years.
1) Say thank-you. Being defensive only makes you look bad. Put the critique away for a while, and look at it next month. Search for one thing in it that might help the work. And conjure a mental garbage can for the rest.
2) Try not to take it personally. The critique is directed at the page, not at your heart – although it sometimes doesn’t feel like that. Consider the source: maybe the critique-giver had a bad week, or maybe they have another agenda. For example, do they consider themselves rivals in your genre or style? If this might be true, see Step 1 again.
3) Talk to someone about how you feel. Try another group member, the group leader, or a trusted friend. Recently, after a rough session, I considered leaving a group. Instead, after I calmed down, I contacted another group member, although I didn’t know her very well, and discovered she felt the same way. We were able to initiate a discussion in the group, and that helped clear the air.
Above all, don’t give up on yourself. Writing is a craft as well as an art, and it takes time to learn. If a group isn’t working for you and your writing, and you are being held back by the attitudes or critiques you’re getting, it may be time to leave that group and seek another.
Have you had a negative feedback experience? Please leave a comment (click “Read more” below for the comment box).