Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Can we Tawk?

I'm inspired this week to talk about something that shouldn't be controversial, but with writers sometimes is -- honesty.

Writing is such a personal endeavor. As writers we pour bits of ourselves into our work and then shove it out into the world for little pieces to be hacked off or smashed by others. It's just the nature of the beast. I doubt there's been a piece of writing, ever, that was universally loved. On the same token, not everyone has the same career goals or will go about attaining those goals in the same manner. While those of us lucky enough to find companions on this journey have company on our writing paths, we aren't always going to agree with the choices made by our writer friends.

So, how do we cope?

I think with a combination of honesty and tact. And because everyone makes mistakes, also with forgiveness.

I often marvel at the miracle that is my main critique group. (I'm working with two groups right now... a bit overwhelming.) My first group has been together, more or less, for over five years now. That six women can meet once a week for five years to criticize each other and still survive is seriously a miracle. Not that we haven't had problems. To prevent the total collapse of the group we've had to prune a couple members and that was tough. Tough for the prunees, I'm sure, but tough for us, too. We've also recently added a member and that too was tough. New personalities, new ideas, change. All hard. But we're sticking it out because it works, because we make each other better, because we're all in it for the writing and not for the weekly social call, and because we keep each other honest -- I hope.

I've heard stories of hurt feelings and misunderstandings that have blown up in so many other writers faces. Old friends never talking to each other again. Offense taken where none was meant, escalating into all out wars.

We all want to avoid these blow ups. Is the solution to always be nice? To never say the hard things? To continue a relationship that clearly isn't working instead of cutting it off? Gee, I hope not.

I don't want my critique partners to lie to me -- ever. Sure some things they've said have hurt. And I'm *sure* I've said things that have hurt them. (I can be a bitch.) But I'm a big girl (and I'm not just talking bra size). I can take it and I hope they can too. The thickness of my skin has increased about 100x since I started seriously writing and I think I'm a better person for it.

And each day I thank whatever higher power there might be for sending me critique partners who can be brutally honest, with tact, and who can forgive each other for the occasional and inevitable lack of tact and hurt feelings.

5 comments:

Sinead M said...

Aw shucks... I'm so glad for our critique group as well.
It's wierd how people get defensive about critiques. Critiques take time, we have to read the person's work, think about it and come up with ways to make it better.
I could be working on my own stuff, so I've never understood why people get defensive.
A writer can choose not to use the criticism, that is their choice, but to be pissed off.
Never made sense to me.

What happens when their editor, or agent wants to make changes?

I love that our critique group can take criticism with such grace and professionalism.
I love even more that each member takes the time out of their lives to read my work and make me a better writer.
Which is what has happened because of the group, and I would hate to think critiques were softened because I couldn't handle the truth.

Great post, Maureen.

Kimber Chin said...

I agree about the honesty.
No sense having a critique group if they're not going to be critical.

I recently received a blasting critique from my personal editor for my novella.
I've told her not to pull any punches and she sure didn't.
It hurt but after my ego recovered, I knew that she was right.

However, I don't take criticism well live (I tend to argue back and not truly listen). I prefer to receive it in writing.

What is the time commitment with your critique group?

Maureen McGowan said...

Sinead, you're right, a writer can choose to use the criticism or not... and critiquers also need to learn to accept that the writer won't always agree with the critiques and not take that personally, too...

I'm so glad we've found ways to work through the few rough spots we've had.

Kimber... our group varies in time commitment. We try to meet once a week and can have between 20 and 200 (or more) pages to read in any given week. It can be a lot, but it's worth it.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Ha! Kimber - to the point as usual - what's the point of being in a critique group if they are not going to be critical? It's easy to forget that!

I couldn't agree with you more, Maureen. It's a weird balance of care, ego, tact, talent and magic that works in our critique group.

Alli said...

From what I've experienced, quite a few writers join a critique group and expect to be given gold stars for their writing - then cringe in horror when they receive an "honest" critique. When anyone joins a group, the ground rules need to be set from the beginning - with the proviso things can be changed as the group/writers evolve. I love my CP's - we all come at the same thing from different angles, vary rarely agree with each other, but when we do, the writer knows something has to seriously be looked at. We've been together for a year and are still ironing out wrinkles, but along the way I think everyone has learnt and improved their work thanks to the honest feedback they've been given. Here's to great CP's!

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