Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mentor Monday: How to Receive a Critique in a Group Setting

A while back, my Mentor Monday post offered advice on how to give a critique.  Today, I offer up suggestions on how to receive a critique.
  •  Always bring a piece that has been buffed and polished to perfection -- to the best of your ability so far. If you haven't done all the work associated with this draft, we're certainly not going to put a lot of effort into it because we already know you can do better. Some may disagree with me on this, and probably there are exceptions to when this rule can be broken, but I think those times are rare. What do you think?
  • If you have one (or two) things you'd like to get out of the critique, let the group know before they start reading. Do you wonder whether you've used transitions well or if the dialogue rings true? Give your readers a job to do. We love to help!. Expect that most of us will still comment on your piece as a whole or on other things we feel you need our (so totally) expert opinion on.
  • DO NOT use this opening to give a lengthy explanation of or apologize for your work.  The piece must stand or fall on its own. We can 't emphasize this enough. Well, we could, but it would mean hiring Guido again-- and trust me -- you'd rather that we not.
  •  Being the language-type folk we are, we'll have plenty to say. Jot notes. 
  • In our collective experience, The Write Sisters find that it's always preferable to bring several copies of a manuscript for members to read.  It's just easier for most readers to absorb a piece by reading it. In some groups (ours for example), someone also reads the piece aloud.  Expect and encourage your readers to mark up their copies of your work and return them to you at the end of the session.  
  • In general, make as few comments as possible during the critique of your manuscript. You'll have a chance to speak at the end.
    •  As you listen, try to keep an open mind about what's being said. I think writers should own most comments for at least 24 hours. You may violently disagree with what a reader said, but by at least considering its truth you might learn something from it. If, after all that 'think' time, you still find it's a bunch of horsepucky, by all means, cast that little sucker aside.  
    • Don't assume that all opinions are relevant or even good. Find voices you trust, and listen carefully.
    • Understand your feelings of resistance to things your readers have said. Try something out even though it may be past your skill level or something you really believe won't work. What have you got to lose by just trying it out? Writing is fairly easy to undo. You could possibly be stretching and strengthening a writing muscle you didn't know you had.
    • Don't be paralyzed by what may seem like an flood of negative criticism. There are times when the best of us feel hurt by comments. As long as they're not purposely mean, a comment is meant to help you be a better writer. If you're getting more negative responses than you can handle, ask your critiquers to tell you what they feel actually works in your piece. If your group tends to always focus on the negative, it may be time to find a new group.
    • Try not to explain or defend anything you've written. Of course, there are exceptions to this as, for example, if a critiquer asks for an explanation or if you're trying to illustrate your thinking behind the way you wrote something. But be careful to recognize a fine line here. Remember, no one will accompany your submission to the editor's desk.
    • Be gracious, and don't hog your meeting. It may be your group has no moderator to help bring your session to a close.  Do not let the comments go on endlessly (as they sometimes can . . .).  After a reasonable amount of time, thank everyone for their help, then promise yourself you'll use their advice to make your manuscript totally kick-ass awesome. Bring it back again when you have.

    1 comment:

    Mur said...

    Great post, Jet. I totally agree with bring a polished piece and don't explain. When you're bringing a piece for critique it should be because you've gotten it as far as YOU can. Being open to suggestions does not mean you're giving up your creativity.