How to Take Criticism at a Writers’ Group

First take a deep breath and remember it’s the work that being criticised, not you.  Taking the plunge and offering your work for criticism to people who will not unconditionally praise it isn’t easy, but it is necessary if you want your writing to develop. 

Once you’ve found a writers’ group to suit you, you need to get the best out of it.

Don’t react

At least not there and then.  Take what’s been said away and consider why it’s been said and what the speaker hoped to achieve.  Individuals will all have their own obsessions: with one it will be grammar and punctuation, with another characters, with another dialogue.  But think: are they trotting out the same advice they give to everyone or are they saying something relevant to your work?  One magazine editor used to state “you need to stop writing” on her rejection slips.  That message was like slamming into a brick wall until you realised she said that on all her rejection slips thus it became completely harmless.

Not all Advice will be useful

Some of the advice will apply directly to the piece of work under discussion.  Some advice will be useful but will not apply to the work under discussion, but is worth noting so it can inform future work.  Some advice should be ignored: some will try and re-write your work, resist. 

Some Critics only Criticise

Sadly some cannot bring themselves to say anything positive and will only focus on weaknesses.  Turn your focus to the sections they didn’t comment on: that’s where your strengths are.  Look the sections they did comment on.  Do their comments apply or should they be ignored?

Don’t try and please everyone

You can’t.  Who are you targeting your work to?  Do they like it?  That’ll do.

The problem area might not be the one under discussion

The problems may occur earlier in the work.  If no one likes a particular twist in the story, the problem lies in whatever made the characters follow that twist.  If no one likes stanza three, then the problem’s in stanza two that led to stanza three.

Take Care with Rewrites

Are you rewriting because the work needs it or re-writing to please the group?  Ultimately you should be writing for your target audience, ie commissioning editors, and if the group wants you to take your work in a direction that editors don’t like, don’t re-write.

Are you collecting rejection slips?

There’s little point in simply bringing your work to the writers’ group every meeting if your aim is to get published.  You have to submit work to editors as well. 

The Worst Criticism is silence

That’s not the silence of people gathering thoughts immediately after seeing/hearing your work.  That’s the silence of standard rejection slips.  The silence of no reviews.  The silence of no editorial feedback.  The silence of no readers.  If you want to get published, you’ve got to get your work out there.

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One Response to “How to Take Criticism at a Writers’ Group”

  1. Creative Writing Courses – are they worthwhile? « Emma Lee’s Blog Says:

    […] How to take Criticism at a Writers’ Group […]


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