Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Value of OPO

Zestful Blog Post #126

When I was coming up as a writer I was wary of critique groups, and still am, even though I’m occasionally paid to lead them. (This post is on the heels of doing a day-long one at a conference last week, which makes all this fresh in my mind.)

For the uninitiated, a writing critique group is where everybody submits an agreed-upon amount of writing in advance, and everybody comments on everybody else’s work. Some groups don’t read in advance, but read silently or aloud on the spot.

Such groups, a.k.a. other people’s opinions (OPO), are fraught with peril. Some of your fellow writers may:

- be kind of dumb and thus don’t get your stuff;

- have different tastes from you, and thus don’t get your stuff;

- be needy, argumentative, not nice, ‘and exetera,’ as the kids in my neighborhood used to say.

All that may be. But there is gold for the mining in such groups:

- Any reading-aloud that is done (especially by someone not the author) instantly and pretty much empirically reveals awkward wording;

- Patterns of opinion generally emerge, which if you’re open, can help you make decisions about anything from content to theme to style;

- If one or more accomplished, or particularly astute, writers are present, you can improve how you think about literature: how to evaluate it, perceive strengths and weaknesses, and figure out solutions to problems;

- You’re forced to separate yourself from your work emotionally if not intellectually. Writers who can’t do this are doomed. Some writers find critique groups too upsetting, so they self-select out of them. I’m not saying if you don’t like crit groups you’re doomed; just that well-adjusted writers learn to deal with criticism calmly and rationally.

[This writer showed up way overdressed for critique group day.]

Crit groups are not for everyone, and not everyone comes away with the exact same gains or lack of. But that’s life: it ain’t always fair, but if you stay open come hell or high water, trust the process, extend yourself to others, and persist, you’ll be all right.

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  1. LOL, thankfully I don't have to dress like this to ride.

    "Dealing with criticism rationally and reasonably," that's the crux. Grow buffalo hide. Learn to separate wheat from chaff. Learn to tune out superfluous drama. And every so often, click with another writer and be able to take anything they dish out as the pair of you indulge in 'hive' mind.

    The last one makes kissing a lot of frogs worthwhile!

  2. Thanks for that, Cordia. Right on.

  3. At the Elmwood writers Group our motto is, "We take our writing seriously, not each other."
    If someone in the group has written something, it is put in that person's online folder. The rest of the group is notified that a file has been uploaded to the group's website.
    Every Sunday, between four and six p.m. the moderator for the month selects which pieces are to be critiqued at Wednesday night's meeting.
    This gives members up to three days to write their critiques.

  4. I could tell many tales about critique group experience and strategies for participating, but I will give only one example--your critique group at the recent book festival. During the morning, listening to comments, I developed a feel for which member(s) of the group might be helpful: Very, Somewhat, Not at all. When I received the critiques on my submission, I pulled out two for detailed study and skimmed through the remainder. Which two? The answer is below written backward to discourage peeking. JH

  5. Stan, that's a great motto! Thank you. And JH, thanks for sharing your thoughts on our day. I agree that TAP's contributions were excellent!

  6. I haven't found a critique group near me that I would feel comfortable with. I write fiction with lesbian characters. The nearby groups I have contacted have not even responded when I contacted them to see if I would be welcome in their group, since they require participation in reading to the group. So...I don't go. Instead, I have developed an online cadre of fellow authors as beta readers. We're from all over the world, we read for each other, and that helps a lot. I sincerely value every opinion I receive, even if I don't always agree with them. At least I can ask them why they felt that way, and no feelings get hurt, including mine.

  7. That's interesting; it seems more and more writers are going online for the shared-critique experience. I think there's something to NOT giving/receiving feedback in person that makes it safer, somehow.


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