Critique Group Protocols

In his novel Straight Man, Richard Russo makes some amusing comments about writing workshops:

"The first rule is that all comments and criticisms are to be directed at the manuscript and not its author. In return for this consideration, the author is not permitted to speak in defense of the manuscript."

"These are excellent, though fundamentally flawed, rules, The problem with the first is that what's wrong with any given manuscript is often easily located in the personality or character of its author, as is the case with Leo's story..."

There is indeed a sense in which one can't critique Leo's story without simultaneously critiquing Leo's character. Such critique sessions can be reminiscent of the struggle for survival among a pack of wolves. And the things that are wrong with your personality -- the things, that is, that doom you as a wolf -- may be among the most interesting things about your writing anyway... which doesn't mean you aren't doomed.

Wallace Stevens -- "Personally, I like words to sound wrong."

My theory about the second rule is that it's actually there for the author's defense. In writing groups that disregard the second rule, and permit authors to defend what they wrote, the initial criticisms may have to be rephrased more and more emphatically, resulting in a mauling. Better for the author whose work is under discussion to smile mysteriously and even nod. "If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too..."

3 thoughts on “Critique Group Protocols”

  1. Then wait till it's your turn and rip their throats out, eh?

    Why so many "If" quotes lately?

  2. Exactly.

    I've been listening to Joni Mitchell's version of "If" a lot on my .mp3 player.

  3. The zeroth rule is the assumption that, having presented his/her work, the author is interested in suggestions. The ego that goes to the well expecting water without dipping the bucket, deserves to have it spilled on him. Which is to say, once you present your work, the bridge has sailed.

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