The Joy of Honest Critiques
One of the greatest joys I’ve discovered over the past decade of trying mold myself into a writer is that of the critique group. At first, many moons ago, I found the prospect terrifying. You mean someone is going to tell me how bad I suck? And, what if they suck? Do I have to tell them? Somewhere in the back of my lizard brain, these are still concerning, but overall, the positivity of the process overrules that little voice in my head that tells me I’m not good enough.
What do you gain from having critique partners? Certainly, you gain insight on your own work. That is, of course, invaluable (though, as an aside, I do believe there is such a thing as too much feedback). But I think more than that, you get to see how other writers approach the craft. How do they structure their dialogue? Are they fond of the vaunted semicolon? Does their description and detail seem natural? As a writer critiquing another writer, I find there is always something to learn from that person. Not only that, it’s also an opportunity for me to teach, to share my experiences and lessons to help someone else be a better writer. If your critique partner returns the favor, it’s win-win.
It is this desire to help someone improve their writing, their story, that I believe is the crux of a critique group. To me, that experience is far more valuable that getting feedback on my own prose. If your partners approach the experience the same way, then it is a shared value proposition. In those situations—and let’s be honest, not all critique groups are created equal—you see a writer flourish and evolve.
Yet, it is important to remember that growth in life requires honesty. This also holds true with critiques. There may be bitter pills, both to dish and to swallow, but most improvement requires a little pain. The critique group isn’t about the ego boost. If you want that, share your work with a non-writing friend or family member. They’re always up for telling you how amazing you are, how talented, how you’re the next Rowlingkingatwoodmartinshakepeare. If you want serious gains, if you want real insight, tactful but direct honesty must be a staple of the critique process. Without it, the process itself becomes hollow and a writer either becomes jaded or overconfident.
I wrote this tonight because I did a critique for a friend of mine, Sarah. And while my most recent critique partners were terrific and more than I could ever ask for, reading Sarah’s work reminded me how much I can learn from the process. To me, it is a microcosm of the human condition. If you never stop learning, you’ll never stop growing, and you’ll always find the path traveled to be a satisfying one.