Howlin' For YouToday's Tune:
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'.