Consider the Source of Your Critique

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There was a writers’ group I regularly attended that I’d found on Meetup.com a few years ago.

One of the things I liked about that particular group was every other month they’d do critiques. We were asked to bring in up to five copies of three double-spaced pages of a working piece, they’d divide us into groups, we’d read our piece to our group, and we’d receive written feedback.

I took one of my erotica pieces to one meeting. I didn’t read the critiques until a couple days later. One said, “It’s okay to say ‘pussy’ but not ‘cock.’ Ok, LOL.” The reviewer did sign his name, which was helpful for me to understand where he was coming from and also showed how little he knew about me personally. What struck me was that he wanted male genitalia to be named what he called it. I never call a penis “cock.” No one I know from where I grew up calls a penis a “cock.” Since becoming active in the BDSM lifestyle, I have realized there are many people who do use that term.

It bothered me that he assumed I thought not using a word he’d use was not okay. His “LOL” at the end seemed sarcastic to me. I never mentioned any of this to him and I stopped sharing my pieces after another incident happened, which I’ll share below.

I took in a suspense piece and against hoping I wouldn’t be in his critique circle, I was. All the feedback I received was helpful, except his. He said something like, “When I come across a word I don’t know, it stumps me and slows down my reading.” Sure, I have a doctorate degree in Psychology. However, I’m fluent in Ebonics thanks to growing up in the inner city and also working with adolescents and teenagers involved in the criminal justice system. I’m now retired, so unless I subconsciously put on my clinical hat, I don’t speak using big words.

I felt for a moment that I’d need to dummy down my writing to suit some people and that’s when the thought occurred to me to consider the source of the critique. This guy wrote children’s books with his, then nine-year-old, son. Ah ha, so yes, he was used to using small non-adult words. Regarding his “cock” comment, that’s a word he used at nauseum in his sexual stories.

I learned the importance of not taking any one person’s critique as a standard for my writing. Ironically, all the feedback I received on my pieces were similar, his were the outliers. It became obvious that no one really agreed with him and glossed over his opinions of their work.

The writers’ group was a fantastic way to meet writers of various genres in differing stages of publication. It was nice to share my work and hear others; to have multiple people provide constructive criticism was a bonus for me. Unfortunately, I haven’t been to that group for quite some time. I often think to go back and somehow life continues to get in the way.

I’d love to read if you’ve attended writers’ groups and what your experiences are/were with them. Where they helpful? Were there opportunities to have your work read and critiqued? What was one of the most important things you learned from being there?

I look forward to reading your thoughts.

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