On Handling Criticism and Critique Groups

Author:
Publish date:

Over the weekend, I was asked by a poet for tips on how to handle criticism as he tried thinking out whether he should join a writing critique group. With his work, he was afraid of a few things:

  1. He wouldn't be able to handle the critiques. That is, he was afraid too much negativity would lead him to give up writing.
  2. He wouldn't find the right readers to give critiques. He'd written a massive blank verse poem, and he's afraid the wrong group won't appreciate his words.
  3. He won't appreciate the written words of his peers. He seemed to have a particular view of other contemporary writers--thinking much of today's writing is kinda like spam.

Now, I'm not going to get into a debate of his stance on contemporary poetry, which I personally think has very good vital signs. However, as a former participant of several online critique groups and a student that logged more than 60 credit hours in writing courses at the University of Cincinnati, I will speak a little on the value of critique groups.

So there, I've already tipped my hand: I think critique groups are valuable, even if you don't agree with the critiques. And here's why:

First, the only way to gauge if something is actually working for your readers is to solicit feedback. Sure, you know what you're trying to do, but you don't know if anyone else is picking up on it unless you hear it from your readers. After all, you can't go around explaining your intentions to every reader--unless you actually want a very small audience.

Second, bad feedback is still valuable, because it forces you to look hard at your work and try to justify exactly why a particular line or image is fine as it is. And you need to be honest with yourself. If you can't honestly defend your work, then you may have an area that needs revision.

Third, there's nothing better than good feedback. After taking in all the praise though, be sure to develop a certain sense of paranoia. Is everything really okay? Can I change a line here or there? I've found that when I receive absolutely no negative feedback that I'm usually more self-critical of my work. After all, there's no such thing as a perfect poem.

Fourth, critique groups give you the ability to talk out problems you're having. If you know something's not working, you can ask the group to pay attention to x or y and give specific feedback.

Fifth, critique groups provide camaraderie with other poets. And that's often hard to do, especially if you don't live in a major city--but even there, poets are a bit hermetic and love to fly solo.

So there are some reasons why critique groups--as well as workshops, conferences and creative writing programs--are a good thing (in my opinion).

*****

As far as handling the criticism, as mentioned above, you should always be prepared to defend and scrutinize your work. It's a crazy tightrope act, but one that poets need to perform to get the most out of their lines.

Personally, I always bring a new poem to my critique group hoping for the best and expecting the worst. Usually, I find my words are somewhere in the middle.

Currently, I'm not a part of a critique group, but I still have some trusted readers for poems that I feel are close to getting where I want them to be. These are the readers I trust to let me know if my writing is hitting the mark or falling short. I know they'll let me know, because we've built up a level of trust over the years--both in giving and receiving criticism. Hopefully, if you haven't already, you will be able to find such a group of trusted readers.

incite_vs_insight_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

Incite vs. Insight (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use incite vs. insight with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Cleland_1:17

Jane K. Cleland: On Writing the Successful Long-Running Series

Award-winning mystery author Jane K. Cleland describes what it's like to write a long-running book series and offers expert advice for the genre writer.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: #StartWrite, Virtual Conference, and New Courses

This week, we’re excited to announce free resources to start your writing year off well, our Novel Writing Virtual Conference, and more!

20_most_popular_writing_posts_of_2020_robert_lee_brewer

20 Most Popular Writing Posts of 2020

We share a lot of writing-related posts throughout the year on the Writer's Digest website. In this post, we've collected the 20 most popular writing posts of 2020.

Malden_1:16

Carla Malden: Writing With Optimism and Innocence

Screenwriter and author Carla Malden explains why young adult fiction and the '60s go hand-in-hand and how she connected with her main character's voice.

writing_mistakes_writers_make_talking_about_the_work_in_progress_robert_lee_brewer

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Talking About the Work-in-Progress

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake writers make is talking about the work-in-progress.

Kelly_1:15

Greta K. Kelly: Publishing Is a Marathon

Debut author Greta K. Kelly reveals how the idea for her novel sparked and the biggest surprise of her publication journey.

Poetic Forms

Mistress Bradstreet Stanza: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the Mistress Bradstreet stanza, an invented form of John Berryman.

capital_vs_capitol_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

Capital vs. Capitol (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use capital vs. capitol with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.