Critique Groups: Constructive or Destructive? | Chris Martin Writes

I made a rather long reply to Chris Martin’s blog.  Here it is–hopefully and eventually, more throughly edited.  It seemed like a good time to inaugurate a subblog because at such time, I find I express myself rather better and rather more passionately even if in a more plain spoken way.

You do manage to garner a large share of comments. Apart from my #1 fan, I hardly get any!

My take on peer review in general: You don’t need peer review, you need expert review.

I’m opening a huge can of worms here by stating this, but peer review is something dreamt up by those involved in marxist education theory. It has no place in an artist’s life unless he values companionship more than he values his art. Peer review only has value when all your peers are experts. If I’m an engineer by trade, my peers are engineers, as an example. If I were an aspiring engineer, the value of my peers–also aspiring engineers–would be dubious.

You need expert reviews, mostly. The most successful writers throughout history with some scant but notable exceptions (I shan’t repeat the ‘m’ word again) eschew them. According to the best among successful writers, your instincts are correct. Unless the “group” contains successful published veteran writers, editors and publishers, then any advice they will offer is simply speculation. I’m even talking about university MFA types here–especially them, in fact.

Hemingway remarked that such groups can help with the loneliness an author feels at times, but generally not with ones writing. That being said; seek experts out. And, once you’re a real expert yourself, and everyone you know is; then, by all means go for the peer reviews!  Which may then actually mean something.

Regarding amateur peers, you also have no idea what motivates their comments. If you don’t truly know who they are, it could be greed, envy, avarice, or hatred, as well as a well-meaning desire to help. If someone disagrees with your political, or religious point of view, or that put forward in the work, their advice may not be advice at all, but simply linguistic sabotage, designed, either consciously or subconsciously, to eliminate you from the landscape. While in the university setting, I made it very clear to my instructors that I would prefer an incomplete or a fail rather than to participate in peer review. After all, wasn’t I paying the PhD sitting at the front of the class to evaluate my work, and not some other public school maleducants? (to coin a word–and, to be fair, I include myself in that category, which is why I felt equally unqualified to review other students’ work.)

Most working writers, Stephen King, for example, say that your best resource is READING. He states something to the effect that when you’re not writing, you should be reading. I agree, although I’m not his peer by any means. (and hence I’m engaged in speculation!) Still, I tend to give more weight to a writer who, if you’ve read his book “On Writing,” seems to have been born with an obsession to write. It cost him dearly too–early on, in all manner of ways. In any case, he states that once you are writing, your reading takes on a new character. You begin to see, and to look for, how another writer you admire accomplishes something interesting or awe inspiring.

Well…. Clearly I have some strong feelings about this. I’m glad I came upon your site Chris and will give your books a read as and when they become available. I just thought I would like to provide some philosophical, foundational, justification for what I believe to be your very good instincts.

Another note here is this:  Another group of advisors can often be–once again, not your peers–readers. People who read, and love to read; love a good story; and have no aspirations to write. Just people who love to read! Those people can be very helpful in determining how clear your message is. Aspiring writer’s view’s on what is clear… are…well… not always clear. The very fact of their attempt and desire to write makes them a non standard reader. Once again, I’m including myself in this category as well. Rather than ask me, for example, if a passage in your novel makes sense; let your mom read it. or your sister or your brother. or cousin, or your daughter or your BFF. See if it makes sense to one of them. Then you’ll have some real information to work with: 5 or 6 more or less normal readers–those that enjoy reading fiction (or whatever you write)–agree that the passage means what you intended. Or that it doesn’t. Either way it’s real information.

But the pattern that seems to emerge, once you start thinking it through clearly, is that anyone BUT your peer is a useful resource. And this group, readers, are easy to find. You have a few living in your house, more likely than not, or just good friends all around you. I’m meandering a bit now, but I think you get my drift here.

via Critique Groups: Constructive or Destructive? | Chris Martin Writes.


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