Critique Groups: Good Reasons to Keep Quiet

If you were to visit my critique group and ask, “Who’s the most guilty member of the group,when it comes to interrupting?,” they’d smile and say, “Oh, that’d be Becky.” And then you’d look at me, and I’d be nodding sheepishly.

Yeah. I get excited about the ideas going around, or I’m thinking along two tracks at once–what the critiquer is saying and what I “know” about my story, and I’m trying to put it all together, and I forget to do it quietly. Silently. In my head.

You’ve probably heard that, when you’re being critiqued, you don’t get to argue with the critiquer or defend what you’ve written. You may have heard threats about duct tape being used to keep a critiquee quiet. I’m pretty sure those are just urban legends. But there are good reasons for not interrupting while someone’s presenting their critique. And, if you’re in an online group, those reasons are just as good for not sending off a “But….!!!!” reply too fast, without giving yourself and the critique time for the feedback to settle in.

Thought I’d share a few today.

  • Not interrupting is partially just manners. But you can also throw off your critique partner by cutting off the flow of what they’re saying. Yes, hopefully, they’re reading the overall comments they’ve written up before the meeting, but they’re probably doing a lot of other stuff at the same time: listening to themselves to see if they’re actually making sense, watching your face to see how you’re reacting, and trying to catch the new ideas that are bubbling in their brain as they talk. I don’t know about you, but if I get interrupted while I’m trying to handle all that, I’m going to get confused and forget what I was trying to say. And, yes, this does get worse as I get older, thank you so much for asking.
  • The no-arguing, no-defending rule actually makes a lot of sense. Your critique partners are letting you know their feedback about what they read, what you managed to get on the page. These are the words that, if you sent them out today for publication, would be read by the agent, the editor, your readers. None of those people are going to have contact with the very-possibly-different ideas in your brain. If you didn’t make it clear enough for your critique partners, you haven’t made it clear enough for your readers. That’s why you’re here, in this group.
  • Here’s another thing about your critique partners: They have feelings. Really. If you argue too often, or question what they’re saying, or just make it hard for them to give you their critique, guess what they may start doing.  Giving you a less thorough critique. Not necessarily on purpose, but in unconscious reaction. When we face an obstacle too many times, what’s our likely response? To go around it. To avoid it. And, even if there are days when you might feel like this, you really don‘t want your critique partner backing off. You want all the help they can and will give you.
  • Sometimes you have to let critiques sit. Let me rephrase that: Often, you have to let critiques sit. Your initial reaction about what a critique partner is saying will very likely change after an hour, a day, by the time you get around to revising. While you’re listening, your brain is going very fast, trying to keep up with the feedback, trying to align it with what you know about your book, trying to visualize a hundred possible revision changes all at once. Honestly, sometimes, it’s just too hard to listen and think at the same time. So take notes, let the comments drop into your brain, and–yeah, keep quiet.

It’s not always when you’re being critiqued that you feel like jumping in. You can be listening to a critique partner give feedback on someone else’s book, and get a lightbulb moment that you just have to share. Now. Immediately. Your impulse is to just blurt it out.

Hello. Been there.

Resist the temptation. Keep a pen and piece of paper handy and take notes. Scribble down your idea or your question, and wait for your turn. One of the most important things a critique group can do is leave time after the critiques for discussion and brainstorming.  Use that time.

And, meanwhile, pass around the duct tape.

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8 thoughts on “Critique Groups: Good Reasons to Keep Quiet

  1. Great post, Becky. My group has try-outs. We’ve refused someone because all through her first sessions with us, she “defended” (argued) every point. What’s the point of talking if no one is listening? It’s a waste of everyone’s time. We gave her a thanks, but we don’t think this is a good group for you.

    Like

    • beckylevine says:

      It’s a hard thing to resist, but–yeah, if it’s not on the page…time is better spent putting it there than arguing that your critique partners (all of them!) just can’t see it. 🙂

      Like

    • beckylevine says:

      I have days when it’s easy to just be quiet, and then there are the days when my brain’s spinning and it’s just harder to keep it all in. I call those my Tasmanian-Devil days!

      Like

  2. Jenn Hubbard says:

    The first workshop I took actually had a formal rule about this: the writer could not speak while the class discussed his/her work. When the discussion had reached its natural conclusion, then the writer could ask questions. It was great training for me!

    Like

    • beckylevine says:

      Yes, I think it’s a good way to get started, then–as the group grows–people can loosen up. Then, like I need, an occasional reminder….:)

      Like

  3. I am so guilty of interrupting when others are being critiqued! I am about to have my first critique and this is a great reminder for me to keep quiet at our next meeting.

    I’m now considering bringing duct tape so that I can get more out of my critique.

    Like

    • beckylevine says:

      Another trick I use–just keep my coffee/tea mug handy & take a sip every time I want to blurt something out! 🙂

      Like

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