Welcome to The Critique MD. I’ve been waffling for weeks now, trying to get this website up. Logos, and developers, and blog templates, oh my! I finally decided to go live with a barebones approach, figuring content is what is important. I’ll upgrade the packaging and the site functionality as we go.
So . . . critiques. An integral and inevitable part of the writing process, yet while there are seemingly endless classes on writing and writing techniques (which is awesome), it seems like the most guidance writers get about critiquing is (maybe) a list of bulleted tips and suggestions. Then “poof” one is magically a seasoned expert at (a) delivering insightful feedback to other writers and (b) receiving and processing feedback on one’s own work.
I, for one, was not of that immediately-gifted-in-critiques type. When I started my writing journey, I had zero confidence that I could give others effective feedback on how to make their writing better. I was still learning how to make my own writing better, for goodness sake.
As for receiving feedback? Okay, technically, I could do that. I knew to listen quietly and take in what folks were saying about my story. But there is more to receiving feedback than just hearing it. You have to evaluate it. Decide if and how you are going to act on it. I was terrible at that. Ter-ri-ble. There I was, doing my earnest best to be responsive and address anything anyone suggested. My story suffered as a result. Plus, I had some adorable mind meltdowns around what to do when I got polar opposite feedback. Yeah, it wasn’t pretty.
And how about critique groups? Those are potential minefields of conflict.
First, there’s the emotional turmoil that can come up when critiques are given and received. We writers in the end are all human. In my corporate work, I trained managers and employees on giving and receiving feedback in context of performance reviews. Even there, emotions and tensions occasionally got heated. In the worst cases, poorly delivered or poorly received feedback led to lost promotions or lost jobs. And that was in context of someone’s work, which at least has a veneer of containing rampant emotions. But what we are talking about here is art. A person’s creativity, meaning we are in the territory of feeling, passion, and vulnerability. That is some potent terrain.
How potent? Here’s sociologist, Brené Brown, on the topic of creativity and adults:
When I started my research on shame thirteen years ago, I found that eighty-five percent of the men and women who I interviewed remembered an event in school that was so shaming, it changed how they thought of themselves for the rest of their lives. For fifty percent of that eighty-five percent, those shame wounds were around creativity…. Fifty percent of those people have art scars, creativity scars.
So, yes, if critique groups are not actively creating norms and standards of engagement that help them weather the emotions that will come up, especially when creativity scars are triggered, group dynamics could get dicey. In worst case scenarios, friendships and writing partnerships might become the collateral damage of critique groups gone wrong.
Unfortunately, it’s not only big-ticket triggers that can tank a group’s interpersonal dynamics. Consider basic logistics drama, such as scheduling conflicts or what to do if someone is consistently late. Or how about participation issues? What if your group has a standard that everyone must submit a week in advance, and someone is always either not submitting, or consistently submitting last minute? Do you have a clear plan to handle those situations? Or do resentments build and build until a massive, unpleasant confrontation happens? Or, less dramatically but no less unfortunate, do valued members simply opt out of the drama by leaving the group?
Once again, not exactly pretty.
Here’s the deal. Anytime groups get together for an extended period of time, conflicts will arise. The trick is to have a plan for handling the issues. And then . . . to actually handle them. Expeditiously. Do not let the issues grow into seething, raving monster problems. Seriously: Do not do that. Get those suckers when they are itty-bitty, baby monster issues. Yeah!
Okay, that took a fierce turn. But it’s a fierceness I stand by. It’s always disconcerting when I see creative people suffering from situations that might have been avoided with courageous attention to preventative processes and handling nascent conflict.
What all of the above means is there will be three key discussion topics in The Critique MD:
- How to give feedback effectively.
- How to receive feedback effectively.
- How to create critique groups that thrive.
In these discussions, I will present the science and the psychology of giving and receiving feedback. This will include the latest research about the feedback process, as well as frameworks to give you new perspectives and greater confidence in giving and receiving critiques.
In context of creating effective critique groups, we will explore both process and group dynamic best practices from a variety of diverse disciplines such as software development and entertaining.
On occasion we will dive into special topics in the critique process. One special topic already in the works is a discussion about the challenges that receiving feedback can pose for writers who have experienced significant trauma in their past. For those writers, the critique process presents unique challenges but also provides many, many opportunities for healing and empowerment.
First, though, we will start with the basics: the key principles of healthy critique giving and receiving. As well as how to build those skills within you.
Onward in kindness,
Christine Carron, The Critique MD
P.S. Look for news coming soon about The Critique MD’s first live webinar course: A Whole-Brain Approach to Giving and Receiving Critiques.