Here’s an extract from an excellent article by Melissa Donovan on the Writing Forward blog, on how to critique other writers’ work. Please pay particular attention to the tip on being compassionate! Read the full article here.
“Constructive criticism involves a little compassion. If someone cares enough about their work to show it around and invite feedback, then it’s probably something in which they are emotionally invested. If you are the person they feel is qualified to provide that feedback, then embrace the invitation as an honor, and approach it with respect.
It can be awkward at first — after all, who wants to be the bearer of bad news (and almost every critique contains at least a little bad news)? After you do a few critiques, you’ll get the hang of it, and it will become easier and more natural. Just keep these basic tips on how to critique in mind:
I’m so excited! WritingClubWorld.com went live today, less than 3 weeks after my having the original idea. I’m going to keep a diary of how it goes, week by week because I have a feeling this is going to grow and grow and I want to remember every minute of it.
My software guy did an amazing job of interpreting my initial enthusiastic warbles, after asking me lots of questions and he delivered EARLY! I’m so glad I found him a couple of years ago. He’s made some nice little business plugins for me and so I was confident he was ready for a bigger project. Turns out he’s previously worked on sites with 26,000+ members!
Now, we are already – within a day of launching – attracting visitors from the UK, USA, Greece, Spain, Serbia and Ireland. See the pic!
Isn’t that magical? That you can put a website up and if you get the basic SEO (search engine optimisation) right, people start finding you. Most of our visitors have come from the Bing search engine so far, but we’ve just had our first Google organic search visitor so we’ve been indexed.
I’ve set up the Facebook page and started the first FB Likes campaign – which is the most inexpensive to start getting some attention. You choose the country, ages and interests of the people most likely to Like your page, they see a summary in their timeline, or on the side and they click Like. If you are lucky and set your page up right, they’ll click through to check out the website, but you can’t rely on that. So you have to update your page regularly and give people a reason to click through.
I’ll be sharing the first paragraph of new stories and inviting other writers to come and review them as well as sharing updates like this one.
If you are a writer or know one, do come over to showcase your writing. No charge!
I’ll look forward to seeing you in our private Facebook community too!
Writers love the idea of writing groups. Writing is, after all, a very lonely pursuit. You sit alone in a room wrestling your ideas onto the page, struggling to fend off the constant attacks of doubt. Your regular friends probably don’t quite get what you are doing and can’t help. So it makes perfect sense to join other writers who can help you navigate the joys and sorrows of the creative process.
Unfortunately, the reality of writing groups is far more complicated than that. Underneath the good intentions there are serious dangers lurking.
In my work as a book coach I often see the damage that writing groups do, and it is not benign. Writing groups can cause fatal frustration, deep self-doubt, and sometimes years of wasted effort. In this post I’m going to outline the most common dangers of writing groups, and will also propose some ways you could improve your group to give you more of what you need—and less of what you don’t.
To illustrate my points, I’m turning to wisdom shared in Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull, President of Pixar and Disney Animation. In this book, Catmull shows the many ways that the powerhouse studio has managed creativity, and in the process produced some of the most resonant and beloved stories of our time. He talks about the concept of management on a really big scale—department hierarchies and multi-million dollar movie projects—but the fact of the matter is that we all must manage our own creativity if we are going to do any good work, and his wisdom applies to all of us.
Most writing groups tiptoe around glaring weaknesses in the work being shared and sometimes tell outright lies about it, because they don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. All the writer hears is praise or vague criticism that isn’t very actionable, and so they assume that what they are writing is solid (if not awesome) and they plow on creating fundamentally flawed work.
Praise is wonderful—it feels good to hear it—but it is not very helpful for the writer committed to writing a book that engages the reader. Writers must find a way to welcome criticism, even harsh criticism, but writer’s groups tend not to foster this skill, and as a result, no one grows, no one learns, and people become deluded about their work—believing it to be better than it is.
At Pixar, truth-telling is a central part of the creative process. As Catmull writes:
In the very early days of Pixar, John, Andrew, Pete, Lee, and Joe made a promise to one another. No matter what happened, they would always tell each other the truth. They did this because they recognized how important and rare candid feedback is and how, without it, our films would suffer. Then and now, the term we use to describe this kind of constructive criticism is “good notes.”
Before we get to the good notes part, let’s look at the promise to tell the truth. That’s the critical thing a good writers group needs—not an implicit promise, but an actual commitment. Every single member of your group needs to understand the promise about telling the truth, believe in it, commit to it, and welcome it when it is their turn in the hot seat. This starts with a shift in mindset, which Catmull describes beautifully:
Naturally, every director would prefer to be told that his film is a masterpiece. But, because of the way [our group] is structured, the pain of being told that flaws are apparent or revisions are needed is minimized. Rarely does a director get defensive, because no one is pulling rank or telling the filmmaker what to do. The film itself—not the filmmaker—is under the microscope. This principle eludes most people, but it is crucial: You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your idea, you will take offense when they are challenged. To set up a healthy feedback system, you must remove power dynamics from the equation—you must enable yourself, in other words, to focus on the problem, not the person.
Try the following fixes for your writing group: