“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.