I’ve never been very good about accepting criticism about my writing, but I’m getting better.
The old me: in writer’s groups or critique sessions, I would agonize over what to bring and end up selecting the piece I thought would receive the least criticism. Then, as the feedback rolled in, I would respond as though the burden of understanding was on the reader and explain/justify every point. Then I would go back in and try to incorporate every suggestion. My in-mind mantra: Why don’t you GET it?! But all right, let me try this and maybe you’ll like it then…
The new me: I usually avoid writer’s groups.
Don’t misunderstand – most of what’s best in my writing is inspired by other writers. Although my instinct is to work on my own, I would be doing myself a great disservice to ignore the ground that has been laid by all the excellent writers who went before – and move now – all around me.
However, what I have discovered is that writer’s groups are composed of as many types of people as the world itself and, like people in the world, there are those who should be listened to, those who should be ignored entirely, and those who should be selectively listened to. In a writer’s group, it’s difficult not to want to please everyone, including those whose advice might wreck a potentially great work. When I was working on my query letter for Aeden’s Wake, a friend over at Backspace warned me against “end-gaining,” a drama term for changing everything to please everyone.
Hence the “usually” in the new me.
I have discovered that I am a good writer. While my craft is – and never will be – complete, I am accomplished and confident enough in my abilities to know that much of the advice I have traditionally received would be detrimental to my work.
As a very concrete and recent example, back in university I wrote a story that was very close to my heart but that my instructor and most of my peers didn’t like. Defensive and disheartened, I put the story in the drawer and didn’t look at it for ten years. This past summer, after a decade of writing and publishing, I dug it up, re-read it, and realized that I had penned a very, very good story indeed (which, given the drivel I typically wrote then, was pleasantly surprising). So, swallowing my disappointment, I submitted it (with almost no changes) – and “Buddy’s Mirror” ended up as a finalist in The New Guard Literary Review’s 2011 Machigonne Fiction Contest.
Sometimes, we need to be really selective when it comes to criticism.
So, in evaluating critiques or writer’s groups, I have the following criteria: