Tell Me What You Think, Gently!


I jumped out of my comfort zone and joined a newly established writing critique group last night. It will be the first group I’ve joined and where I truly want feedback-which is a very scary proposition. I had to ask myself over and over, and even all the way to the meeting, whether I really wanted the honest and sometimes painful comments of strangers. Do I really want to know what they think? Well, the answer to that is yes. How can I entertain thoughts of publishing something without getting feedback beforehand? But even though I want feedback, I am still an artist with a thin skin. I want them to be nice.

I know, I know, I have to develop a thick skin if I want to be in this business. And so far, the non-fiction writing and editing has paid off just fine. But then again, critique of a non-fiction work is mainly about facts, not style. What I’m looking at now is critique of my style, form, imagination, technique, etc. and that’s touchy.

At a loud, crowded coffee shop downtown, we began our meeting by introducing ourselves. Two teachers, two freelancers, one person without writing experience. Seems like a well-rounded group from different walks of life. All younger than me, but that’s usually the case these days. After deciding on times and dates for future meetings, we got down to the mats.

We began critiquing a novel excerpt (not mine). It seemed to go well, although we are all still evaluating just how much we should let go. Should we be brutal? Should we be kind? Should we be technical? I think that will all wash out in the next few weeks and I’m hoping we will all become comfortable with the opinions of others. There were a few tense moments when the word “overbearing” and others were thrown out. But I loved that part since it signaled that this group was willing to get its hands dirty. I’ve never been in a group like this and I’m not sure on the etiquette yet, but I want the gloves off at this point. If I’m willing to open myself up, I’ll take what comes my way. (Throw some tips at me if you’re in a group or have been in the past. I would love a few tips of the trade, so to speak.)

My work is up next week and that will be the true test – Can I take it? My first thought is, “Sure, I’m a grown up. I can take it.” But deep down, I want to please, I want kindness, I want them to adore it. But, I guess I do want them to be truthful and honest since this is my chance to clean up before sending it out to the real experts.

As you can see, I’m in a quandary about this new adventure. It’s a great feeling to get your work out there and get honest feedback, but it’s also a step into the rain without an umbrella. Will it pour or sprinkle? I’m so happy to have one person in the group I know and I respect. The rest of you, please be gentle! At least in the beginning…

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3 thoughts on “Tell Me What You Think, Gently!

  1. I hate that the shorthand dichotomy for criticism–no, no, I mean feedback–has become kind vs. brutal, instead of, say, helpful vs. oh, ad hominum or something. Deep vs. shallow. Well-informed vs. personal taste. You get the idea.

    Good luck when your turn comes around. It sounds like it’s a good group, though, and you’ll be able to learn together.

  2. I’ve not been fortunate enough to join a critique group other than online, which I find lacks in some ways. I need a good verbal exchange of question and answer to understand and learn. Online conversations feel stilted and one sided.

    I agree that honest critisim, delivered with certain non-confrontational finesse, is very constructive for personal growth.

    I wish you the best in your new adventure. It sounds as if you will make the most of it.

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