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Monday, July 12, 2010

Write. Fight. Tight. Right?

“Mental fight means thinking against the current, not with it. It is our business to puncture gas bags and discover the seeds of truth.” —Virginia Woolf
Has anyone noticed? Everywhere people fight. Religious fights and in fighting. Cultural fights. National fights. Political fights. Tribal fights. Family fights. Internet anonymous posting fights. Even people in critique groups fight.

The Talmud tells a story about two Torah study partners—Rabbi Yochanan and his study partner Reish Lakish. For years they studied Torah together. Reish Lakish’s death sent Rabbi Yochanan into a deep depression.
People asked, “What’s wrong? Why are you sad?”
“My study partner died and now I have no study partner.”
To console the Rabbi, his friends found him a brilliant, young scholar to be his new study partner.
Not long after, Rabbi Yochanan’s friends noticed he was still depressed.
His friends again asked, “Why are you sad? We found you a brilliant study partner. What’s the problem?”
“My brilliant study partner tells me twenty-four ways that I’m correct. When I studied with Reish Lakish, he showed me twenty-four ways that I was wrong. And that’s what I miss. I don’t want a study partner who agrees with me. I want someone who challenges and questions me.”

To know the value of your ideas and writing, a critique group offers a safe place to receive straight, honest feedback. Critique groups provide a focus group where writers test-market their writing. If someone doesn’t understand your point or plot or even disagrees with your viewpoints, valuable feedback helps you to better communicate with future readers.

However, it’s important to choose your critique partners carefully. Opening yourself to the ideas and feedback of others taps into your deepest insecurities. You need people who balance positive affirmation with honest critiques. When mature critique partners disagree, they don’t argue, they discuss and at times agree to disagree.

Our critique partners inspire growth as a person and as a writer. My critique partners stimulate my creativity, expand my thinking, and push me to dig deep and be real with myself and in my writing. Best of all, they want my writing to be the best it can be. 

7 comments:

Patricia said...

I really like this. I think your last sentence is the key. A critique group needs to be made up of people who sincerely want the best for each other...we want others to put their best foot forward and succeed. Personally, I want and need encouragement, but I also want someone to tell me if I have "broccoli between my teeth" before I venture out into the world.

Having been in a critique group for a couple of years, I have learned that many (if not most of us) need a little time to build relationship before we start hacking away at each other's work. Recently, our group "re-grouped" after two members moved away and two new members joined us. Though I really wanted to be honest with one of the new gals about her submission that I thought needed a major re-write, I finally concluded after much prayer that I needed to back off and get to know her better first...and let her get to know me better, too. I'm not afraid to be honest (I might be a better editor than a writer), but it is received easier when someone knows that I love them and want the best for them.

Beth K. Vogt said...

Interesting lead-in to a discussion on critique groups, Scoti.
And you're right, Patricia. Building trust is paramount in a critique group. Better to hold on sharing that one "perfect, no-holds-barred" critique than to never see that person in your crit group again.

Scoti Domeij, Director, Springs Writers said...

You are right, Patricia. Trust is the key to providing honest feedback and we have to be gentle with beginning writers or writers new to a critique group.
I just read this quote by Roz Zander: "I remember when writing The Art of Possibility, the Harvard Business School sent out an early draft to readers before I felt it was ready to go. The comments we received back from the readers were pretty negative, and it surprised me that I was very interested in those negative comments and in what others had to say. I didn’t quite understand it at the time, but I thought, 'If they haven’t understood what I’m trying to say, then perhaps I haven’t conveyed it as well enough as I could have. So I saw it as their comments actually gave me clues on how to communicate my ideas better.' With that perspective, even the most negative reader appeared to me to be on my team."

Roxanne Sherwood said...

Great post, Scoti.

If I want a reader who loves everything I write, I'll give my manuscript to my mother. But she won't tell me how to improve it. I appreciate positive comments from contest feedback, but I often learn the most from the negative ones.

But in a critique group, I need to have a relationship before I can give, and sometimes receive, criticism.

Beth K. Vogt said...

It goes without saying: Take time to tell your crit partners what you loved about their manuscripts. I like to highlight those sentencences/paragraphs in bright green. One crit partner savors green highlights in his edits!
But Mike says every edit--every comment box--is a gift.
Wow. That we would all have such an attitude about feedback.

Patricia said...

That is a great idea, Beth - highlighting the really good stuff in bright green. I'm adding "green highlighters" to my shopping list right now.

Beth K. Vogt said...

I do my edits on my computer--so I highlight using my Word tools. I have a whole system:
blue highlight for sentences/sections that need to be changed
grey for things that should be deleted
yellow for passive
purple for repetitive words
green! for great stuff!
Everyone in my nonfiction crit group uses this method. Scoti and I developed it over the years.