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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

27 June 2007

Ten signs that you’re in a bad critique group

I had planned to blog today about the world’s first work of fantasy, but I didn’t quite finish reading it. (Oops.) Come back next week to find out what fantasy literature of 4,000 years ago was like.

Here, instead, is a partial list of criteria for determining whether you should consider leaving your critique group.

1. A dunce cap is awarded at the end of the critique session to the person whose chapter was that week’s worst.

2. Critiques sometimes start with “Even an idiot should know that . . . .”

3. Shouting is not only permitted but encouraged.

4. When the other critique group members finally find something to agree on, it’s that your work is beyond redemption and you’ll never be published.

5. Critique-ers believe they can help you most by rewriting your sentences in their own style.

6. Your critique group contains at least one of the following people:
  • someone who thinks the genre you write in is stupid or silly
  • someone who always writes brief, useless critiques but expects detailed comments on their own work (Note: A future blog entry will defend the use of “they” as a singular pronoun, so please save any outrage over my using it until then. Thank you.)
  • someone who routinely marks out your correctly spelled words and correct grammar with thick red lines and substitutes mistakes
  • someone who thinks it’s not nice to criticize and merely writes “great job!” on each chapter
  • someone who writes comments lightly between lines in tiny script with a #3 pencil so that you have to search each apparently blank page with a magnifying glass
  • someone who doesn’t understand the difference between “laughing with” and “laughing at”
  • someone who believes there’s only one right method for writing a book—and it’s definitely not yours
7. The Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, or Winter Solstice party is cancelled because no one is speaking to each other.

8. Your mother belongs to your group and scolds anyone who points out a problem in your work.

9. The four-hour critique session consists of three-and-a-half hours of snacking and socializing and one-half hour of critiquing.

10. When you point out a subject-verb disagreement, someone asks, “What’s a verb?”

For some helpful hints on creating a good critique group, see this set of posts at the Writers' Group blog:


Lisa said...

Ha! This is awesome. I read Hannah's post at The Writers' Group this morning and this complements it perfectly!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Love this post so much! Not that I can relate based on any past experiences (2, 4, 6b and d, 9...). There is not only truth in good humor, but sometimes humor in truth, looked at from the proper perspective, yes?


Shauna Roberts said...

Lisa and Hannah, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I've been lucky; none of this applies to my wonderful critique group. (You can read a little about them in my earlier post "Sound the retreat!") Thanks for stopping by.

Sphinx Ink said...

LOL! Good list. Unfortunately, there are all too many groups out there that exhibit one or more of these negative behaviors. Although my weekly writers' group is not a critique group, if we did critique one another's work everyone would be professional and tactful. I am grateful for these kindred spirits.

Shauna Roberts said...

SPHINX INK, thanks for dropping by. Yes, I've heard of many groups with flaws like these. No wonder so many people are leery of joining a critique group.

Charles Gramlich said...

Funny post. The first critque group I was in had a member who often referred to my stuff as "Comic booky." It didn't endear her to me.

Shauna Roberts said...

CHARLES, I wouldn't have cared for that either. Some people seem to have a knee-jerk reaction to anything labeled fantasy. Romance writers seem to face the same thing.

miller580 said...

Boy, this really rang true. Sad to say. I took an advanced fiction class two semesters ago, I remember slaving over every manuscript. Commenting, attempting to help out. Imagine my disappointment when out of 15 potential responses I received 3 good critiques, 2 mean spirited nonconstructive responses and 10 copies either untouched or the "nice story" comment on the last page.

The good thing though was that I received 3 really good responses.

Thanks for the post.

Shauna Roberts said...

MILLER580, sorry to hear about your experiences in your fiction class. All I can say in consolation is that you probably learned a huge amount by carefully critiquing 15 manuscripts, and the 13 people who were mean or lazy learned nothing.

ninthmuse (roz m) said...

Heh...the socializing can be very seductive...

Patti said...

i went to a group once and there was much audible "tsk tsking" going on. it made me laugh out loud and then i just excused myself and walked out....

Shauna Roberts said...

PATTI, I'm glad you didn't get sucked into staying in a group with a negative attitude. Good luck with your writing.