“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” – Neil Gaiman
Until recent months I’ve resisted the idea of a structured critique group. Maybe resistance occurs when I confuse taking criticism with doing whatever the critic suggests. Maybe it occurs when my defenses go up. Participation in a couple of critique groups lately is improving my writing and changing my attitude.
In my current exploration of platitudes (stay present, never give up, write what you know), the one that jumps out for me today is, “Believe in yourself.” Does this mean to ignore the critics, confident that your work is already the best you can make it? Or does it mean to stay open to critique, confident that you can always make your work better? With a reasonable degree of self-belief, you can stay vulnerable without being damaged. You can hear feedback while continuing to own your life and work.
Writing is communication. Between the extremes of keeping a personal journal (with no readers) and writing to formula (revealing nothing of the writer), writing requires that both writer and reader be present. As Neil Gaiman suggests, writers need both to hear what isn’t working for a reader and to retain personal responsibility for deciding what to do about it.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.