Saturday, May 03, 2008

Critiques: What to keep, what to leave

A former student from one of my online classes asks:

"How do you know what critiques you should use and which ones you should not? I brought in and read some of my work to my writers' group this past weekend and received some feedback. I liked some of their comments but disagreed with others. So I wanted to get your thoughts as to how you should handle feedback."

I generally look for consensus. If a few people are saying the same thing, I pay more attention than if comments are various and random. That's not to say that I don't pay attention to the various random comments, because I do. I seem to pay attention to everything everyone says. Which is not necessarily a good thing.

But consensus speaks loudest of all because if a few people are saying the same thing, then it must be true (I reason).

I also pay more attention to comments coming from someone who writes and reads in my genre.

What I don't pay attention to are comments that sound personal and have more to do with the person offering their opinion than they have to do with the work.

And if there is even one lousy person in a group, it can ruin the entire group for me.

Once, in a group long ago, a member said (of my interracial novel at the time): Well, I don't like black people so I don't have anything to say.

I left that group fast. Ugh!

I also pay attention to comments that resonate. Sometimes someone will say something and immediately I'll say or think, Yes! You're right!

Maybe it's something I sneaked in, wondering if anyone would notice, vowing if they did, I would remove it. Or maybe I was lazy, or maybe it was a darling. Wasn't it Mark Twain who said, "Murder all your darlings"? You know, sometimes we're so in love with something we've written that really doesn't fit in the work, but we leave it in because we're in love with it. Praise those workshop members who find those sentences.

If anyone has more to say about critiques and what to pay attention to, please, have at it. I'd love to hear and I'm sure my former student does, too.


Anonymous said...

We have critique sessions at our Dallas Area Writers Group meetings every few months. We bring in a panel of published suthors with a variety of experiences. It is interesting that sometimes they disagree with themselves over some piece -- and this is informative -- authors need to listen to this dialog and realize that their work may speak to some editor and turn another off. That makes it a little hard to interpret some of the comments in the critique group -- but I think you have to separate information about the craft of writing (you repeat words, you use too may "was's" etc) with comments about the content of the work -- pay close attention to the craft comments -- mull over the comments about the contents of your story... very tricky...


Anonymous said...

Happy Mother's Day, Barbara!

:) C