Like every artistic group, writers consist of people with various habits, diverse personalities, and endless quirks. When you join a writer’s group, you are going to be exposed to people with differing viewpoints and perspectives, which, for the most part, will help your writing get better.
However, all writers will come across a small percentage of people who bring nothing helpful to your work. These are the critiquers who you smile politely at while they rip apart your manuscript, say things that aren’t relevant, or leave you so confused that you can barely blink.
The person who rips apart your manuscript with “how they would write it.” – They take out their red pen and instead of telling you that your main character doesn’t have a conflict, they cross out your main character’s dialogue and write in some new words in a voice that isn’t your main character at all. Maybe they even tell you that your female character should be a male. They tell you that you need to up the love story, because they are writing a love story. Maybe you should make it scarier because “thrillers sell.” They have their own project on their minds when they critique and it doesn’t help you. Don’t take it personal, they are working through their own writing problems.
The person who only critiques grammar – More red marks, but no depth to them. Sure, it’s helpful, but did the plot work? Was the opening line intriguing? Should I edit or add more to it? Who knows, but did you know that your tense is incorrect on page 8, line 20? Did you also know that they charge for their editing services and yes you need them? Be careful of people like that at your groups. Because they are out there. They offer “author services” as they hand you their business card. You’re left with a marked up manuscript and the feeling like you’ve just been to a sales pitch that you didn’t know you signed up for. On the other hand, if you need help with editing, these grammar guardians are excellent.
The person who says “This is not my genre, so I don’t care”- Okay, so maybe they aren’t that harsh, but the moment they start their critique they act like reading another genre is the hardest thing they’ve ever done. Now, I don’t read all genres, but I try to read a lot. And for what I don’t read, I do a little research. And I try my best to critique with the basics of what makes a piece of writing good, no matter what genre you are reading. Character , plot, voice, etc. But other people…simply dismiss your young adult work as “cute,” while they explain that they don’t read anything but literary fiction. Or they don’t “get sci-fi,” consider horror “too scary,” and tell a romance writer that the whole idea of romance is frivolous. Instead of just focusing on the elements of the piece, they focus too much on the genre and won’t even try.
The person who says “Please critique my whole book, but whoops I forgot to read the other author’s works.” This happened to me in my most recent group. We had a member who would send out pages of work to the point of going over the limit. Our limit is about 20 pages for each submission, but most people don’t submit that much. It’s more like a chapter or two. Or a single short story. He would take all of the spots to get critiqued so that we basically read half of his book as quickly as possible. When it was his turn to critique other people, he would say that “he forgot,” or “his printer broke,” or “he didn’t get the email.” Finally, the leader of the group had to make a rule that everyone in the group had a chance to sign up at least once for the month so that he didn’t take all the spots. And if you didn’t critique others, you weren’t able to submit. It helped slow him down and now he seems to get it.
The “I’ve read this book and that author says,”- This person is irritating because they are so obsessed with technical writing books that it’s all they know. They don’t like it when people don’t write a blockbuster. They don’t like it when sentences are experimental, when a main character is unlikeable, or when there’s a tragic ending. Why? Because their book about writing tells them what is right and what is wrong. Sometimes you may be lucky enough for them to bring the book to your group as their “evidence.” This is tricky because different writers have different ideas of what is right and wrong. Which is the whole point of critique. To learn something new. For both the author and the person doing the critique. But if the critiquer is so stuck in their technical book, they might miss things or focus on the wrong things. For example, someone brought in a technical book to my group that was over forty years old with really outdated information by an author who never published an actual novel. The “hints” in the book were great for a classical novelist writing a historical work, but not for someone writing a short story, a memoir, or a genre novel.
The “I’m going to link my personal experience that has nothing to do with your work to your work and derail the rest of the critique with my problems.” – This person makes the group uncomfortable with the way they link your romance to their failed relationships. Instead of telling you what’s wrong with your piece, they tell you what’s wrong with their life! If you write a story and the dad character is a meanie, they start to list all of the ways their own father was a terrible role model. If they were a train they would be off the tracks, in the ditch, with their wheels still spinning. Hopefully, your group leader can quickly remind this person to get back to the piece, and leave the therapy session for after the workshop.
Overall, there are going to be a lot of people who don’t “get” your work. But a good critique group can find things to critique in anything. Stay tuned for some upcoming articles about how to write a critique and how to write a critique when the writing is really bad.