Back in the day when I did a bit of training in research, we were taught that discussion groups work best in groups of eight to twelve. Less and you can’t get a good discussion going, it can be awkward, or it’s easily skewed by the potentally odd opinion of one. More, and some don’t get a chance to speak, the introverts probably won’t join in; people can split into packs. There may only be time to express one thought each and so rich discussion is lost, people create submeetings to counteract the increasing volume as individuals struggle to be heard.
In a writers’ critique group, the group dynamic is vital. Writers have scribbled away in their cave to produce this work, don’t know if it’s any good (think it probably isn’t) and have emerged, blinking, in the sunlight of critique. Yikes!
So along with that magic group size of eight-to-twelve, it’s important to be kind and offer critique supportively, especially to those newly emerged writing cubs with rough-hewn work. We want them to grow into strong writing bears, right? (And if we want decent critique of our own work, we need to get it right for everyone.)
But what does this look like?
I can but offer my own experience.
When I critique, I have to suppress my natural reaction which is to first seek out and share that what could be improved. But, actually, I like to receive critique which includes what a reader liked, especially when phrases or symbolism are/is picked out – it makes it worth the effort of crafting each line, each word. I like analysis of what I tried to do with a character, or say with a piece. I don’t want faint or forced praise, but some good stuff is essential to keep motivated.
(My pet hate is when I’ve handed in the tenth rewrite and told ‘there’s some good stuff in there.’ Arghhh! But even this makes me think ‘why isn’t this quite working?’ and go the extra mile to work on skill and style. A blank ‘I liked it/didn’t like it/didn’t work for me’ without further detail has no value. When offered solutions, I have to go back and seek out the underlying problem to then find a solution which works with my style. But I often supply solutions, sorry!)
I have also had to learn to de-personalise criticism so I don’t get defensive – which is tough when a little bit of my soul goes into each piece – and remember it’s still my work and it’s me that has to believe in it and stand by it, so the final decision on what it looks like, is mine.
What’s the best kind of group dynamic? What kind of criticism do you like? What do you struggle with? What makes you want to run for the hills and not come back?
Written by Louisa