The Page a Day Writers Group

Do You Prefer Humble Pie from Friends or Strangers? Or Both?

Posted on: April 27, 2010

Over the years in a critique group, we get to know one another well. And some of us have friendship and professional history from before the group began. So sometimes I have to ask, are we capable of giving a no-holds-barred critique? And would we want to, knowing that our dear friends are offering up the sentences they’ve wrestled to the mat again and again, in attempt to craft the shape of a character’s soul, the right flow, the truest meaning? To say to a friend, “I’m not feeling it. I’m confused. I’m not forming a solid sense of this character,” is not an easy thing.

But that kind of honesty is a necessary thing in our group. And as Trish Wilkinson recently said, “I view feedback as an act of love, a gift of time and thought spent on a writer’s work that I care about.” So it’s with this understanding and respect that we do our best to respond to members’ writing from the gut and deliver our honest reactions. When we receive positive feedback, we brace ourselves for what comes next- constructive criticism. We depend on it.

I have not been the most active member of our critique process, due in part to my ambivalence about friends critiquing friends. But my outlook has changed. I’ve experienced the tremendous value of feedback from the group, and can’t imagine forging ahead without it now.  

I see the benefit of objective readers as well; after a solid first or second draft, it makes sense to workshop the manuscript with folks who are unacquainted with me. But while slogging through the mire of a first draft, a writing group, with its blend of eclectic insights and unwavering affection, offers a sounding board and sanity-saving company. 

Though it may be inevitable that, over time, we become less objective with each other, it’s also possible to “put on our editor hats” and give each other the most honest reaction we’re capable of. We drink in feedback like a bitter medicine given by a loving hand- it’s essential to our writing integrity not to drown in ego. And the benefit of knowing each other over time is, as we realize that we don’t have to be “careful” with each other- and that our relationship is grounded in respect, caring and encouragement- it’s easier to be genuine in constructive criticism. 

What are your thoughts on the critique process?

Ondine Brooks Kuraoka


3 Responses to "Do You Prefer Humble Pie from Friends or Strangers? Or Both?"

Ah, yes, we have to take our medicine if we want to get better–the bitter draught from a loving hand. I suppose the most important thing about receiving critique is that it comes from someone who cares about the work itself. If they care about you more than the work, you get a soft critique. There’s almost always a grain of truth/insight/usefulness in every comment, even if it only strengthens your conviction to hold steady on your choices.

Since I’ve been writing for fifteen years, that means I’ve been getting critiqued for fifteen years. Does the actual process get easier? Hell, no. It hurts to hear that readers don’t like what I’ve written (translated they don’t like me). During the time they’re talking, I’m thinking in my head, “I never liked your mother.” “You have a funny looking dog.” Only much worse things. But then I stop. These people care enough about my work (and maybe me) to be honest and tell me what they think. I have become a much, much, much better writer because of the critiques…even though “you wouldn’t know good writing if it bit you in the arse.”

Thank you, Kirsten and Michelle, for your insights. I learn so much from you!

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Who are we?

The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!


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