Monday, October 19, 2009

No ands, buts or ors, please...

My monthly writers' group met today again. Two writers emailed everyone a chapter to critique a few weeks ago. The time frame gave the rest of us an opportunity to read and make notes to present during the feedback time.

But it didn't go quite as planned.

I should have known and been prepared since I'm the facilitator.

Instead of critiquers critiquing, I listened to writers giving explanations. Beforehand. During. After.

I'm the first to admit I'm insecure about my writing. I want to explain everything. I want to justify why I did this or that.

But the reality is, if I want it published traditionally, I'm not going to be able to give a fifteen minute discourse to someone. I might be allowed only one query line, one chapter or one five minute session to convince another person that my work has merit.

As a writer, I need to take in feedback. Quietly. Using listening skills. Later, and when the opportunity presents itself, I can ask further questions. But I should never try to convince or persuade anyone after the fact.

Because in the end, it's up to me to reject or accept any feedback anyways.

How have you handled a critique before?

33 comments:

Janna Qualman said...

It's hard. But what you've said is true, and if we realize that, if we truly want our writing to be its best, will follow your guidelines. I still have room for improvement.

Carmen said...

I write for an E-circle, and I love it when I get any kind of feedback. I'm really a beginner and so I appreciate any help I can get!

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

Not well, but I'm learning the value of it all. After having my recent work edited by two professionals, can't help but take it all in stride and keep an open mind. Some things I fight to keep in, but other things aren't worth it...

Gosh, we sure do waste a lot of time on ourselves and our words, don't we?

peace~elaine

Journaling Woman said...

I outwardly and graciously accept the feedback. But I confess that inwardly I cringe and cry in my heart that others would attack my precious creation.

Frankly, I am ridiculous.

Wish I could join your group. Sounds very productive.

BeckyJoie at Leaders in Learning said...

That takes a while to get used to but it can be done. At my other groups we usually say no explanation unless asked a specific question but then you only get a line or two of time to answer. The time is suppose to go for critiques only. I missed being there and also my other group tonight. Waaaaa. We were at the doctor's office until after 5pm today. Sigh.

Katie Ganshert said...

This is such wise counsel! There is so much wisdom to be gained by shutting up and listening. I always have to squash the urge to justify myself. I'm not sure that urge will ever go away. My ability to put a cork in is growing, and this I can control. :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

I'm learning to listen, then evaluate the advice. Recently, an editor at a conference did a wonderful job explaining what she wanted. I was able to re-write the piece, and she accepted it.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Andrea said...

Don't know what to say! I am use to secular critique's where it is pretty cut and dry. I think we often baby each other in Christian groups. After witnessing hurt feelings in a Christian group I have opted not to be in that group. I do have christian friends who critique my work...and slash it up...as they should. I need it done correctly and I need to be able to do the same for them without anyone getting hurt feelings.
Sorry...I have gone on and on and not really made a point.
Crazy day! andrea

LisaShaw said...

Hey Terri,

It's been a while since I've been over to visit. Pray all is well with you, your husband and family.

Thanks for sharing with us. Good info to absorb. One day I'll make it to visit your group and then be able to meet you finally :)

Blessings.

Diane said...

Good advice. Can't take it all to heart, ultimately it will improve and make my story and sellability even better. :O)

Susan R. Mills said...

Terri,
I admit I've been guilty of the explaining thing during a critique. It's so hard to understand why the reader is getting it. Obviously, though, if they aren't getting it, then I haven't done my job. I now embrace feedback, process it, and then ask questions. Great post!

KelliGirl said...

Terri,
I love critique. I want to improve as a writer and that's the only way I will. Even when I think a piece is all buttoned up my critiquers still find ways to improve and make it tighter.

As writers we've gotta put on our big girls pants if we want to get better.

I think I'll pass this on to the women in my writers' group.

Madison said...

This is why in my group, the writer is not allowed to speak on the night when being critiqued. The writer is only allowed to listen.

Lin Floyd said...

I send my stuff to a friend and she critiques it and sends it back, no time for explaining on my part. works okay although I don't agree with all her comments.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

It's so tempting to justify everything. Sometimes an explanation is needed because perhaps something wasn't done well enough and that's why the point didn't come across. I really try to keep my mouth shut and just accept what's said. Critique is never easy but it's supposed to make us better. And it's like you said, we don't have to use it if we don't want to.

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

No matter how many times I've received critique and prepared myself mentally to accept it, it still makes that defensive part of me what to answer back for every comment.

Critiquing is hard to give and hard to receive but necessary for writing success.

Natalie said...

Amen Terri. People can't learn if they are too busy justifying their mistakes. I've realized that I don't have to take every little bit of advice, but I certainly need to listen to all of it.

Pat said...

Terri, you know me -- cut away. I feel if we have to explain anything in our piece then we've lost the reader and it's so easy to lose them because, as the writer, we are the only one who knows what's going on! : )
But regardless, critiquing is 'cutting' and cutting something from our heart always hurts. So in a group of writers there are so many different levels of 'critiquing maturity' going on. *sigh* It's the one place I find the hardest to have patience. I think it's because I can see so much potential with someone's piece and I want to say something so bad!
Wouldn't it be nice to have just a bunch of seasoned writers who find critiquing to be equally fascinating? (and who can take it?)
I love it!

Trudy said...

This was good for me to see. I haven't even gotten to the point of submitting anything yet and I feel I am already too defensive about my own writing! I will have lots of growing to do.

God bless Terri!

Chelle Sandell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chelle Sandell said...

I usually try to stay quiet and take the advice if I feel it will help. But I admit that there have been a few times I've felt the need to explain why. I've been on the receiving end of a harsh crit from writers that admit they hate the genre or line I am targeting. It's hard to take their crits to heart when it has to do with a storyline fitting within a particular line that they wouldn't normally read. Have I confused everyone yet with my explaining? ;)

Pat said...

No Chelle, you make a good point. It seems like a good writer/friend/fellow groupie would let you know up front the genre is not one they like. I did this for a friend of mine who writes Chic-Lit which is not a favorite of mine, but she wanted my perspective anyway and it was an interesting process. The harshness may not be intentionally intended, but an ignorance about a genre they don't read or like even they try to be impartial.
Another good point you make is staying objective about the critiques you receive -- to stand back and see for yourself what is good and what will work within your own style and writing goals.
I think this is soooo important!

Jessica said...

You're completely right here. I definitely always want to say well, this is why I did this... LOL But I don't because if I have to explain it, then the story isn't strong enough. There shouldn't be much to explain, imo, if a chapter is great or strong. I like your post. We really do need to get past the need to explain and just listen and soak up the critique.
I could go on and on but I think you covered this well in your post. :-)

Jessica said...

I just read the comments and I think some people made a good point about different genres critiquing each other. That would make a difference in what needs to be explained, I think.

Analisa said...

Yep,
Good post. We all need to have some confidence in what we write. I think if you try to please everyone you get into trouble. You have to know your voice. I want people to understand what I write, but the style of writing everyone might not like and that is ok. When I worked with writers often corrections were made to their style instead of the content and that was a problem. I think often when people critic they really want to conform. If you critic understands your style and can give opinions from that view that is good.
But I am new at this so keep that in mind. *smile*

Pat said...

Wow, Analisa! You make some great points! Ones I will pay attention to, and use in the future. Thanks!

Here's a saying a good friend of mine posted a while back and I wrote it out so I wouldn't forget,

"Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you, figure out what you have to say."
Barbara Kingsolver

I need a whole bunch of good sayings like this posted all over the place!

Hugs,
Pat

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Hi, Terri!

I've just joined a writers' collective in my area. Our first meeting is next Monday. I'm so excited to hear feedback in person. I hope I'll remember to keep my mouth shut and just take in all the comments and suggestions for consideration. Good you posted this now for me to mull over so I'll be prepared on Monday to just LISTEN when it's my turn!!!

Jill Kemerer said...

In the writer's group I used to belong to, we had a rule that the critiquee could only listen to the critiques. If they were confused, they could ask for clarity. It was a great system.

And the bottom line with any crit. is that the author will choose what advice to take or leave.

You have such a great attitude about it! They're lucky to have you.

Greg C said...

I know I am the hardest when it comes to evaluating my own work. But I also don't take negative feedback very well.

Melissa Marsh said...

Hmm. It is hard to take a critique when the other person sees your writing so differently. I think I mostly keep quiet and realize that their opinion is subjective. I like to think about it later, when I'm alone, and then see if I agree with their points or not.

Deborah said...

I've only been part of an online critique group, but I can see how an 'in person' critique might be harder to take without saying a word! With a written critique you have time to think about the comments and advice, and hopefully gain some insight from them. In person, maybe emotions get in the way....someone is talking about your baby, how do you not defend it?! LOL
Someone else mentioned that the writer doesn't get to talk when their work is being critiqued, only listen...I think that would be a good rule...at least until the end, then maybe provide a time for the writer to speak.

Amy Tate said...

Ugh. I feel your pain. At Hollins I learned that rule number one is you sit quietly while people critique your work. The work should stand for itself. You can take it or leave it, but you don't comment. I like the sandwich method. You begin with something positive, then you point out areas where the piece needs improvement, and then you end with something positive. It works like a charm.

Paul Greci said...

I always sit quietly. The work needs to stand on it's own. And for giving critique I, like other have commented, like the sandwich method. If you're meeting as a group it is best to establish some guidelines so everyone knows what to expect. I think the time is used much more productively that way.