Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You're Fired - From Critique Group

Sorry, Stuart*, you're not welcome back. Sure, we've struggled at times with finding enough warm bodies to fill the chairs but the simmering tensions were driving everybody crazy, to the point that when you finally erupted in a vomit of rage at our ignorance, bad taste and cruelty - well, it was a relief.

Not that an explanation is needed, but here are some thoughts in case you decide to seek feedback from other writers some day in the distant future.

1. We are only human. Don't let it make you crazy when a member makes a suggestion, and then completely contradicts that advice a few months later. Maybe she changed her mind, or was having a bad hair day, or was flailing around because she couldn't get a grip on your style. Take criticism and suggestions with a grain of salt. Most of us follow this dictum: if one person makes a certain comment, maybe it's because his shorts are bunched too tight, but if two or more echo the same idea, then I probably have a problem I need to deal with.

2. Every comment shouldn't lead to an argument. Aren't you in a group in order to get feedback on your masterpiece? Then disengage your mouth and open your ears. The surest way to cut off constructive criticism is to be defensive, argumentative and emotional when somebody tries to give helpful advice.

3. It's not personal. When a literary agent declines to represent you, it's not because she thinks you're an awful person. When an editor rejects your submission with a form letter, his intention is not to deliberately insult you. When a critiquer isn't engaged by your prose, it's not a personal attack. Not all ideas are great and not all techniques are effective, but the fact that everybody doesn't gush over the brilliance of your work doesn't detract from your worth as a human being. Hell, maybe we're wrong, and you're going to be Hemingway 2.0 (see #1 above). Again, the rest of us are in a group to elevate our craft so we WANT critical comments and specific suggestions (see #2 above).

4. Develop selective amnesia. I admit being an imperfect creature who gets frustrated when I give the same advice for months on end, and fail to see improvement, and sometimes I hurl an ill-considered, Simonesque remark. Sometimes a critiquer is having a bad day and lets slip a snarky comment. Sometimes another writer just doesn't get the message you're trying to convey. When you keep track of critical comments made months, even years earlier, that's not healthy behavior. Bear in mind that when you hold a grudge, the other person is blissfully unaware nearly all the time. Until the eruption, vomit of rage, etc.

Good luck in your literary career. Now go bother somebody else.

(* Name changed to protect a flaming jerk)

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