My Ego and Constructive Criticism

Yesterday morning, I attended my final writing critique group meeting of the summer. Next week marks the start of my school year, the demands of which will make attending critique group meetings impossible. I will miss the insightful, honest feedback of my peers, but truth be told, I always left critique meetings feeling discouraged, deflated, and defeated, my writing having been found guilty of a litany of literary sins.

My hawk-eyed fellow writers advised me to use stronger verbs instead of adverbs (a rule of thumb I am of course aware of, but apparently incapable of applying to my own writing–though I am keen to point out the weakness in my students’ work).

In short, each meeting was a reminder that I am not, after all, the best writer in the entire universe.

They accused me of head-hopping, a name for the writerly sin of jumping perspectives at will and seemingly randomly–essentially, inconsistent point of view. I thought I was just writing in third-person omniscient.

They suggested I tighten up my prose, stop overwriting, restructure my plot, and rename a few of my characters.

In short, each meeting was a reminder that I am not, after all, the best writer in the entire universe. In other words: These meetings ground me. They bring me back down to earth and humble me.

And you know what? I need that. I need that, and to grow a thicker skin, as well as to remember my purpose for attending a critique group in the first place.

It wasn’t for accolades. It wasn’t so someone would say my idea was fascinating or the ending of one of my chapters was masterful (thought those moments were nice when they did happen). It wasn’t for my ego. It was for feedback–constructive criticism. A critique group is where you go when you want someone to tell you that, yes, you really do look fat in that dress–but here are a few options that make you look slim and slender; here is the way not to look fat in that dress. A critique group, like the sister or best friend you can trust to be honest, often has to be cruel to be kind. If I am blind to my overuse of adverbs, I need someone to open my eyes. If a particular scene is confusing  or poorly written, I need someone to tell me.

A critique group is where you go when you want someone to tell you that, yes, you really do look fat in that dress–but here are a few options that make you look slim and slender; here is the way not to look fat in that dress. A critique group, like the sister or best friend you can trust to be honest, often has to be cruel to be kind.

At my first critique group meeting, the members communicated at the beginning that every criticism offered had one goal: To help all of us produce the best writing we could. And I’ll be the first to admit, it was hard sometimes (all the time) to hear that what I had brought to the group was in fact far more imperfect than I could have ever imagined, that I had not yet produced the best writing I could.

But even as I walked out to my car at the close of a meeting, wondering why I even bother writing at all, feelings of inspiration, motivation, and encouragement always began to bubble up, and my bruised ego started to mend. Within minutes of getting into my car and turning the ignition, I was already eager to get back to my piece and improve it, applying the kind, thoughtful advice I had just minutes ago viewed as a personal affront to my writing ability.

An inflated ego isn’t going to supply that kind of motivation, or propel me any closer to my goals.

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9 thoughts on “My Ego and Constructive Criticism

  1. Writing groups can be tough, but they shouldn’t leave you feeling worthless. Maybe it’s not the right group for you?

    You know, we all have things we struggle with, and sometimes it takes others pointing it out. Every writing group shows me that I use the same words over and over. But I think the first step is awareness. The rest is just hard work. 😀

    I know it can be difficult and humblimg. It is for me, too. But maybe if it makes you a better writer and makes your story a stronger piece, then maybe it’s worth the discomfort. Hard to say. Thanks for this post!

    Like

    1. Oh, honestly, I think this group was lovely and has the best intentions regarding its participants. I think I’m a bit oversensitive when I initially receive criticism (even the helpful kind!), and I’m learning to temper my defensiveness and come back down to earth. Ultimately, the experience makes me a better person, writer (hopefully!), and teacher.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My defense mechanism to handle criticism is to always acknowledge I know it’s terrible too. Don’t worry, guys, I didn’t think *this* was actually good. I think all that stuff is fixable in editing (structural issues), but the biggest challenge is to write honest prose. Not what sounds honest, but what actually is. To be confident enough to write vulnerable, I guess. That is what I want to read but it’s no easy journey to write it myself. So I just don’t write, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I miss your SoFlo blog posts. The voice in them really was honest.
      (Though I have a feeling teaching full-time and parenting your SO-CUTE baby boy might have more to do with the not writing than anything else right now! 😉

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      1. Teaching and parenting is always a great excuse for not writing! Thanks for reminding me. Unfortunately I lack discipline and am thus a sporadic writer who relies on whim.

        Liked by 2 people

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