Disclaimer: The events depicted in this blog took place sometime between the years 2004 and the present. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Incidents may be embellished. I am, after all, a fiction writer. And since this is my blog, it is based on my opinion. But keep in mind, (at risk of cliché) opinions are like assholes—everybody has one.
I have this shower head called the bullet. It’s a stainless-steel, water-saving, strong spraying little thing about the size of a shotgun shell. There’s a button you can slide to stop the spray while you lather up if you want. I think it cost me $5. I’ve had it forever and I would go as far as to say, all other shower heads pale in comparison. About two months ago, I noticed it wasn’t spraying right. (cue dramatic music.) That night after work, I took it apart, cleaned it up real good and hooked it back up. I turned the shower on to admire my work and make sure there were no leaks. Nothing came out. “What?” I ran to the store where I’d gotten it. They didn’t have any (it had been almost ten years). So I went to two hardware stores, one specializing in plumbing. Nothing. I was forced to buy a new one that looked similar, but it was plastic coated with silver paint. I installed it. I tried it. Lo and behold, it was horrible. It sprayed on the sides but not in the middle. UGH! I put my bullet in a drawer hoping I could figure out a way to fix it. This morning, I took it apart. There was a washer in the center of the assembly. I changed the order of the parts, hoping for the best. Then, I took off the side squirting shower head and screwed on the bullet. With a drum roll in my head, I turned on the water. “Yes!!!!” The bullet was back!
Sort of like my first novel.
Back then, there was this man in my workshop. I’ll call him “George.” I was struggling with a complex plot, having some difficulty, trying to fix it without losing my voice or my confidence. One Saturday he said to me, “Please let me know the next time you’re reading. I’ll bring a book.” I was not only shocked, I was crushed. I left that group. I was never comfortable reading in front of “George” again.
So the damage was done. But it only caused a delay. After a while, the story began to pull at me and I started working on it again. When it was finished, I put it away for a couple years while I wrote another novel. Now, I’m taking it apart, cleaning it, and making sure I re-assemble it properly. It’s worth it. It cost me a lot.
Over the years, I’ve attended many different workshops and critique groups. I’ve seen people bud and bloom as they listen and learn. I have seen writers picked apart and discouraged. (At one workshop, the leader pounded the table with her fist telling one of our best writers, “You cannot do this. No one will read this book if you do.”) Then there are those who refuse all critique given. If you stay, you can see the improvement of the receptive writers as well as the stagnation of those who are not receptive.
Feedback is an integral part of writing. Being in a critique group is tough. It’s like baring yourself in front of strangers. You have to trust yourself. You have to trust the other members. Based on my observations, I have listed some suggestions that I feel aid in establishing and maintaining trust between those in the group.
Be as honest and specific as you can without discouraging. When making suggestions and corrections, always keep the writer’s voice in mind. Never hammer your point. If you feel there’s something in someone’s work that needs to be addressed, mark it on your copy, and say it to them once (and only once) for emphasis. If a member of the group has already pointed out an error or problem and you agree, mark it on your paper. Repeating it may put the writer on the defensive. If you feel there is a serious problem and you know it will upset the writer, address them singly. Compliment a writer when you feel they have done a good job.
That’s it. My opinion. Take it, leave it, or critique it.