Observations about online critiquing groups

I’ve written seriously for about 2 years (yet to be published) and joined an online critique group soon after that. On that website I have become one of the more active participants. I mainly read a lot of submissions and critiquing them. I’ve submitted a fair amount of work myself. So, I’ve given and received well over 100 critiques both ways. Which, in the instant gratification world of the 21st century, makes me an expert. (roll your eyes here)

The more I submit, and the more I give critiques, the more I come to realize the inherent flaws of a word-only means of communication. Then I think of all the people younger than I who spend literally hours a day on word-only communication via emails, text messages, and twitters. I fear for the future of personal communication.

Will we evolve into deaf-mutes who can only communicate by reading and writing? What will happen to sarcasm, nuance, body language, facial expressions, exaggeration, and hand gestures if we cease to practice the art of talking to each other? Will we gather at the coffee shop, iPhones at the ready, and twitter back and forth to each other as a group? Host family reunions where no one talks but everyone tweets? Instead of calling to say “I love you’ will we do it via email?

I’ve participated in many online discussion boards in the past. I”ve also tried online critique groups and have come to realize the pitfalls those forums present. It becomes easy to hide behind anonymity. Sarcasm, teasing, irony, dry wit can easily be lost on readers of a post. Personalities and speech patterns, degree of exaggeration, sincerity, and earnestness can be “lost in translation”. Mood, facial expression, the effect of personal problems on a commenter’s outlook are not able to be factored into the conversation.

If I’m having a bad day and read a submission that doesn’t particularly interest me, I don’t usually tell the submitter about my personal problems as a prelude to criticizing his/her work. So I may be harder than usual on that submission, giving them a false impression of my opinion of their talent. Not helpful for them.

Going too far the other way, suppose my personality is one of  ‘don’t make waves’, always be positive and upbeat, ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’. I might give excess, undeserved praise to a submission. This is equally unhelpful. Those crits are usually characterized by excessive emoticons of a positive nature- although I still don’t know what half of them stand for.  :-(

My Critique Group Experience

I’ve not participated in any live critique groups, but I understand their weaknesses, too. I often hear about the “group dynamic.” How everyone is there for their own reasons.  Those reasons may or may not concern writing and getting better at it. Some people come to dominate a group, or sabotage efforts of others to keep the group moving forward, or how some turn the group into a personal sounding board. Worst of all, accepting into the group a member whom everyone soon regrets with a royal passion having invited them in the first place.

You know who I mean: the constant gabber. The needy, clingy, insecure writer who takes everything that is said to her personally. The writer who loves to get off track and start gossiping or talking about anything but writing.  Sometimes there’s a writer who just plain doesn’t get it and to top it off, is a horrible writer.  Thinking about those challenges makes me glad I’ve not tried to join a live critique group–yet. The good news is we are all free to join or not join. We can comment or not comment, be nice or be mean, be helpful or be overly critical (if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the writing biz!).

Bottom Line

So for now, I’ll stick with online crit groups. I can always turn off the computer, but I can’t easily stuff a sock into the live writer who is dominating the crit session by rambling on about how no one understands them, how their mother (or father) ruined their life, how no one appreciates the essence of their writing (which means “I never paid attention in English class, so it’s all cutting edge, new wave literature”), think spell-check is only for those who ‘really’ can’t spell, and don’t understand why their latest blockbuster novel has been passed up by 47 publishers.

I’d love to hear your comments about online critiquing vs. in-person critiquing groups.


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