Wrangling Creativity: one day at a time
Feel free to email me about my work

Writing Groups #3: Taking Criticism from Other Writers, Part 2

The Writing Critique The Catalog of Good, Bad and Ugly

I will be vulnerable here and reiterate a few less than favorable things that have been said about my work over the years.  Along the way, anyone who writes (or so I am assuming) creates a mental catalog of various comments that either stung horribly or inspired. The catalog of actual comments is of course far longer in EVERY category good, bad, mediocre and of course, just plain UGLY.

In regards to grammar:

  • You don’t know how to do a paragraph.
  • You use too many commas.
  • You use too many adjectives and words than end in -ing.
  • You don’t use commas correctly in direct address. (I do now, loyal reader, I do now.)
  • Your sentences have a tendency to get ahead of themselves.
  • Are you sure you took high school grammar?

In regards to content: Bad  and Ugly or “what the heck did they really mean” comments:

  • Is the promiscuous woman in the story based upon yourself?
  • I don’t like Science Fiction. I like your mainstream stuff better—why don’t you just write that?
  • You really aren’t in your work, are you? I don’t get a feeling from it of  just who you are.
  • You write best when you write simply and vividly. You long sentences hang up on themselves.
  • What were you thinking/feeling/smoking when you wrote this?
  • Why do you want to write? Don’t you do other kinds of art also? I don’t think you can do visual art and write, too. (I am a graphic artist and web designer also.

Writing CritiqueThe Good Comments:

  • Wow! Your ideas blow me away.
  • You write great dialogue.
  • You really should send your stuff out. Stuff that’s not as good gets published all the time.
  • I never thought if that way before, it really opened my eyes.
  • I love your stuff.
  • I identified with your heroine/hero.

 Evaluating what I learned:

The grammar comments (some of them anyway) were probably true, and when they were pointed out to me—I learned how to correct them.

The other criticisms in the UGLY BAD category were more about taste (I like your mainstream stuff better…). The “you really aren’t in your work” comment was made about my poetry and simply isn’t true. It was only true for that person’s opinion of my work. I don’t dissect every area of my life, and some poets (this is my opinion) seem to put every little neurotic flip of the neuron into their work. I don’t. That is my bias. I also sometimes use my left brain when writing poetry, not just my right. Poetry is supposed be about whatever you want to write about, or at least I thought so, but apparently I am supposed to just feel—not think in this person’s view of the art form.

 Some of the questions/comments about my work were really more about the person ASKING the question than they were about me. Example: Is the promiscuous woman in the story based upon yourself? This was asked by a guy and I think any woman’s sex life was interesting to him. When I told him, “No, it is based on speculation and some stuff female friends of mine went through”— he was disappointed, though I am surprised he didn’t ask for phone numbers.

These comments offered me options, ticked me off for a couple of days, and strengthened my resolve to be true to the kinds of stuff I love doing.

CritiqueWhere I am at Now

Currently, I have belonged to a local writers’ group since 1998. The groups’ members started out as strangers and have gradually placed themselves among my best friends and trusted confidants. We don’t critique each other’s work, unless asked. Critiques are done privately—one-on-one, ant not shared with the whole group. Rather each week, we get up and read what we have written to each other—OUT LOUD. I think being made to present, to read, has helped me develop a better ear for my work.

People have called us a ”support group,” and we don’t shy away from that label, we embrace it. We are also a mentoring group. We learn from each other’s mistakes and successes, benefiting from varied perspectives, genres and levels of the craft. People have read whole novels they have written (chapter-by-chapter, one chapter per week), children’s books, nonfiction articles, political diatribes, etc. Some of us have published, some of us have not … and yet we remain civil to one another.

I have been in other groups where someone has had a small success and gotten published, only to have that initial rush of joy taken from them because of sniping and jealousy by other group members. You have to rejoice with your compatriots, not begrudge them their successes. Writing is hard work, and almost anyone who has become successful for it has worked their butt off for that success. Yeah, sometimes a person gets lucky. Most other times, you have to make your own luck. Writers make their own luck by continuing in the face of rejections, their own ideas of perfection, and shrinking markets.

Bravo to the all the brave hearts that take on this thankless, yet greatly satisfying endeavor! Yeah, this is kind of me patting myself on the back. But everybody needs an “atta-boy” or  “atta-girl”every so often. Give yourself one along the way!

Credit: Please go to Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s website: inkygirl.com to see more of her wonderful cartoons and illustrations.

Leave a Reply