listen, don't defend.

| Monday, January 17, 2011
Today's Tune: Howlin' For You

Question: Are you a Listener or a Defender?

Critique groups are, as we all know, a valuable tool in improving our writing. They're often our first audience and our first feedback. But they're not support or accountability groups. Those are something very different.

We can't write in a vacuum. If we'd eventually like to achieve publication on some level, we're going to have to deal with criticism. Some of it is probably going to sting. Even so, it's important to learn to take it in stride and learn from it.

All criticism isn't good criticism. A reader may suggest something to you that you completely disagree with, and ultimately that is your right and privilege as the author of the work. Sometimes things ARE a matter of personal artistic choice. And sometimes they're legitimate criticisms that we'd do well to consider, even if we don't agree with the suggested alternatives.

When your work is being critiqued, do you find yourself having to jump in and explain exactly why you made that choice and why it's okay for this particular story? Are you hearing the same criticism from multiple sources, but insisting that they just don't understand what you're doing? Do you ever pause to at least consider that a critique partner may have a point, even if you don't agree with their solution?

This happens for any number of reasons. We're the creator, so we know exactly why we made the choices we did. We're close to the story and can't imagine changing or cutting something. We're tired of editing and just want it to work. There's always a reason. But here's the thing: once our work is out of our hands, there are no more explanations. No more sitting beside the reader and telling them that no, really, they just don't GET what you're doing here, but it will make sense later. There's only acceptance or rejection.

Being a Defender doesn't do you any favors. If you're looking for nothing but praise and reassurance, that's a different group. You may as well not participate in a critique group if you refuse to actually listen and consider any critiques. As always, you must consider the source before choosing to take any suggestions or advice, but don't do the fingers-in-ears-lalalalalala thing. If people you know to be good readers find things that aren't working for them, then heed. You don't have to go with their suggestions if you don't agree with them, but at least listen.

Also, word to the wise: don't talk over and interrupt your critique partners when they're giving you their thoughts. It's super rude. Just sayin'.


{ Simon C. Larter } at: January 17, 2011 at 6:47 AM said...

I used to get defensive, but not say anything. Then I'd go back and stew and grumble and mutter. But after a day or two, once the criticism had sunk in, I'd be all, "Well, crap, they were right." Then I'd pour myself another drink and get to the editing.

Sometimes it just takes a few days to switch modes. :)

(Also, the more time you spend getting crits, the faster you make that switch. Practice makes cranky...uh, perfect. That's what I meant.)

{ Magan } at: January 17, 2011 at 7:08 AM said...

Ha...I just had to say that I find this funny that we both talked about critiquing and critique groups today for our blogs.

I think this past year has taught me alot about critique groups and I think that's something that just comes with the territory and once you get used to it. The first time I had a harsh critique of my latest manuscript (this was like vomit draft)...I cried. I don't cry anymore (okay yes I do), but sometimes we just have to learn to take critiques with a grain of salt...and maybe a shot.

{ aspiring_x } at: January 17, 2011 at 7:54 AM said...

i have the hardest time discerning which crit to take! i usually really trust the people i show my work too, so then i want to take ALL the crit to heart!! but then it's hard to not apply crit that i might do better not to apply- if that makes sense! :)

{ Meredith } at: January 17, 2011 at 7:58 AM said...

My creative writing teacher in high school made us all be silent as our works were being critiqued, and I've kept that rule ever since! You can explain yourself after the critique if you want, but first you have to make sure to listen--so true!

{ LTM } at: January 17, 2011 at 8:33 AM said...

I tend to listen and then take what I can use, but sometimes it feels like critters want to know why I made choices I did... I don't know. Maybe it's me. lol! :D

This is a great post, though. Need those critters! <3

{ Steph Sinkhorn } at: January 17, 2011 at 9:52 AM said...

Simon - Totally. Sometimes it takes a few days to chew over an idea and process it before you're ready to look at it objectively!

Magan - Ha, did we really? Funny XD Sometimes it hurts to hear what people have to say, but you keep on going. Sorry it made you cry, though :(

aspiring - It IS hard sometimes! Just takes practice to be able to put the crits through your artist filter, I guess.

Meredith - Exactly! At least wait till they're finished before you hop in with explanations :)

LTM - Oh yeah, if the critique partners are actually asking you questions about something, feel free to answer! I'm mainly concerned here with those people who can't let a critiquer get a thought out before jumping in with "Well, no, you read that wrong, it's really..."

{ Matthew Rush } at: January 17, 2011 at 11:44 AM said...

Hah! Funny that Simon's is the first comment here. He is in my critique group and 90% of his feedback is brilliant. The other stuff, well he always means well, but just not everything is going to resonate with your vision for the story.

Great post Steph!

{ Old Kitty } at: January 17, 2011 at 2:11 PM said...

My first foray into having my writing critiqued was like a baptism of fire. No one's blushes were spared!! It was a wake up call and yes I cried buckets!! I thought "how mean?!?!?" LOL!!! These days I know better and my skin is less fragile, still a little thin but I've learned to listen and take advice and above all to trust my instincts. I'd not write without a good critiquer or ten though!!

Take care

{ Whirlochre } at: January 18, 2011 at 5:03 AM said...

Defend your ears! Especially if you're Dumbo!

{ Elena Solodow } at: January 18, 2011 at 5:53 PM said...

In the last writing class I took, it was forbidden for the author to open their mouth during a critique session. It's fine that you, as the author, know there's an explanation, but if the reader isn't picking up on it - it don't much matter.

*got the package by the way! thanks!

{ Brooke R. Busse } at: August 19, 2011 at 3:14 PM said...

Sometimes when I'm reading through critiques I've just received, I feel myself jumping at comments and wanting to rush to my email to explain. But I tell myself I can't do that, read on, and then read the whole thing again.

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