Sean P Carlin

Writer of things that go bump in the night

Writers Groups—the Pros and Cons

From 2010 through 2014, I participated as one of the founding members of a writers group that met every other Tuesday at restaurants around Hollywood to trade script notes and war stories.  There were eight of us in total, all with representation, though none had yet experienced what they would’ve defined as their “big break.”  We had genre screenwriters (including yours truly), drama and sitcom scribes, and even a comedic playwright, of different genders, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds.  Everyone brought a distinct skill set and perspective to the table.

That was nothing if not an interesting time to be a screenwriter in Hollywood.  The disastrous 2007–08 Writers Guild strike left the once-robust spec marketplace decimated, bringing about permanent systemic changes to the industry:  Studios were no longer—with very rare exception—buying and developing original materials any longer, opting instead to aggressively franchise their vast libraries of branded IPs (hence the endless Star Wars and superhero movies retarding our culture at present), and since those jobs only go to screenwriting’s top one percent, the lion’s share of screenwriters out there could neither find work nor make sales.

While screenwriters picketed, the studios cleaned house

But in 2010, the full impact of that paradigm shift hadn’t yet made itself undeniably evident, so everyone—screenwriters, agents, managers—were still operating, however futilely, under the old model, in which spec scripts were churned out by writers under the developmental “guidance” (read:  marching orders) of their management, then shopped by agents lured out of hiding only by the dangling carrot of their 10% cut.  “Spec’ing” is a demoralizing practice in the best of times, and those were hardly the best of times.

But our writers group was a tremendous source of comfort and counsel to me during that period.  It was a regular opportunity to get out of the house for a night out, to socialize with folks who understood the particular anxieties, frustrations, and exhilarations of attempting to make it as a screenwriter in Hollywood.  It made the town a far less lonely place.  All of us, not just me, looked forward to those Tuesday evenings.  But more on why they eventually reached their end shortly.

 

HOW THE GROUP WORKED

The way our critique circle operated was like this:  There were two hourlong slots available per meeting to review written materials—meaning a script or treatment—and two half-hour slots for extemporaneous exercises, be it informally workshopping a concept or logline, rehearsing for a formal pitch meeting, asking follow-up questions on a previously submitted project, troubleshooting a creative matter, or even polling for advice on how to handle a professional quandary, like a strained relationship with a producer or manager.  It was a support group as much as a critique group.

Submissions were collected via e-mail at the end of the week by the de facto leader of the group, then disseminated over the weekend before an “off” week, giving everyone about ten days to read the scripts and prepare notes on them for the next meeting.  Some members, like myself, chose to provide our colleagues with written feedback in addition to whatever was discussed in committee, but that was strictly optional; mostly it was just about participating in the intense give-and-take debate at the roundtable.  If your material was under the microscope, those were exhausting and often frustrating sessions.

The Algonquin Hotel features this mural of the Vicious Circle, a daily gathering of New York literati that convened there throughout the 1920s

But they were also, regardless, reliably wonderful and thrilling nights, too.  Removed from the business of Hollywood (more dysfunctional now than ever), the creative process can be a joyous thing, and it’s fun to participate in that—especially when it’s someone else’s project, whereby you get the pleasure of partaking in the brainstorming without having to commit to the long-term hard work of bringing that to fruition.  Plus, it’s fascinating to observe how other creative minds work, to see the kinds of stories and characters they conjure.  It makes you realize that no two sets of eyes see and interpret the world in quite the same way.

 

WHAT A WRITERS GROUP OFFERS

So, for what it’s worth, here are the advantages to taking part in a writers critique group:

  • Camaraderie.  Writing is a solitary and often lonely profession spent in the confines of your office and, more to the point, your skull.  There’s great encouragement to be taken from sharing your experiences—not merely your material—with those who directly relate to your plight.  Such can be the fuel that keeps you going when the grind of the creative process—as well as the creative industrial complex—wears you down.
  • Direct feedback—that is, project-specific developmental notes.  You get a diverse set of reactions to your material, and the opportunity to workshop ideas with folks who understand the craft of storytelling.  The energy and enthusiasm this interaction produces often more than offsets the sting of criticism.
  • Learning to take feedback.  The leader of our group taught me how important it is to distinguish the suggestion from the note.  Case in point:  A reader says to you, “You know that scene at the masquerade ball?  Any chance, like, maybe a bomb could go off midway through that?  That would shake things up!”  That’s a suggestion.  The note underneath is that the scene at the masquerade ball is insufficiently compelling.  The suggestion itself may or may not be the right fix—it usually isn’t—but the underpinning note has identified a problem that you the writer can now determine how to best address.
  • Learning to give feedback—that is, mastering the practice of offering notes, not suggestions.  Suggestions indicate what you would do with the story were you writing it—only you’re not.  This is someone else’s story, and you’re merely trying to help him achieve the best possible realization of his vision.

 

WHERE THINGS GET TRICKY

So, given all of the above, why is it my association with our writers group came to an end in 2014?  Several factors contributed.

When we started the group, we were all in our early thirties, only one of us—me—even married at the time.  Cut to a few years later, wedding bells and babies were happening in rapid succession.  Consequently, that meant less time and less energy to spend four-plus hours on a weeknight talking shop with colleagues over drinks and dinner, to say nothing of the effort required to read the submitted materials and prepare notes in advance.  Those are, let’s face it, the privileges of being young and single.

Success also happened.  Some of us found ourselves with writing assignments, or staff positions on television shows, further limiting the time we had to invest in the group.  So, for both personal and professional reasons, attendance became dispiritingly spotty in the final year, often with four or fewer members present on a given week.  Thusly, the diversity of feedback, as well as the interpersonal dynamism that had made the group so special in the first place, diminished considerably.

In addition, success bred resentment among those that hadn’t yet attained it.  Gossipy cliques had already formed within the group once we’d started to become intimately familiar with one another’s personalities and, more saliently, one another’s materials.  After several samplings of a particular writer’s work, you become attuned to his bad habits and creative shortcomings, and that results in an impulse to judge a new piece of writing before you’ve even read it.  I was guilty of this myself:  I knew that if Jane Doe volunteered a script, it would likely be well-structured but riddled with flat dialogue; or when John Smith submitted, the jokes would be hilarious but the plotting slipshod.  And more often than not, I would only discover upon reading a given submission that my prejudices were founded.

With that in mind, you can imagine that when Jane harbors an irritation with—if not an outright bias against—John’s substandard command of structure, and then John gets assignment work off the strength of a spec Jane weighed in on creatively, unemployed Jane is left simmering.  That started happening.  So, personality conflicts and professional jealousies unquestionably poisoned the well after a while.

I’ve since spoken to other writers—ones not affiliated with my group—about their own experiences in a formal critique circle, and the consensus seems to be that these associations have a shelf life of about five years, give or take.  Like most relationships and experiences, they’re of a particular period in our lives—important at the moment but not built to last.  Even the legendary Algonquin Round Table barely existed for a decade, limping through its waning years to the inevitability of dissolution.  It’s important to recognize that even if you find and join a group with dynamic collaborative chemistry—mine was alchemical, but that was a lottery win—the magic doesn’t last forever.

 

SHOULD YOU JOIN A WRITERS GROUP?

So, where do I net out on writers groups:  worth it or not?

We don’t improve without feedback, without guidance.  Period.  We need to put our work out there, have it torn apart, and learn from the experience.  Nearly everyone I’ve ever known has claimed to “have a great story” in them, but few have put pen to paper and actually realized that ambition, let alone to any measure of creative and/or commercial success.  Having the drive—not just the dream—to tell a story, to commit to your craft, and to produce a piece of work worth all that effort is a rarity.  Peer feedback is an indispensable and unavoidable component of that journey.

And yet here’s what I consider the biggest drawback when it comes to soliciting feedback:  Inexperienced or insecure writers might find themselves discouraged or even dissuaded from developing a project—particularly something idiosyncratic or questionably commercial—by a vehement peer critique.  Would anyone beside the author herself have seen the market potential of an S&M reimagining of Twilight?  Or an outer-space adventure in which mathematics, and not derring-do, is the preferred instrument of problem-solving?  Certainly no agent or manager—I promise you this—would have allowed, let alone advised, Fifty Shades of Grey or The Martian to be written.  Wouldn’t have happened.

But both E. L. James and Andy Weir had a vision, and I suspect that had either of them submitted to the counsel of an advisor—be it a mentor, a manager, a critique group—in the developmental stage of those self-published projects, that vision would’ve been discouraged, or at very least reshaped to resemble something else—something more conventional, more familiar.  And what’s the point of storytelling if you don’t try something different, something that could’ve only emerged from the nebula of your particular imagination?

A rap musical about our Founding Fathers? Only an artist who didn’t “know any better” would’ve taken that shot

Early in my career, I made the mistake of capitulating to the dogmatic precepts of my management, which yielded neither professional prosperity nor artistic satisfaction.  Later, when I decided to pursue material more in line with my own sensibilities, they would simply refuse to take it to the marketplace—a widespread problem worth exploring in a future post—hence the reason I fired them and quit the business.  (These were the same visionaries, it’s worth noting, who assured Ransom Riggs that moving forward on a weird little novel he’d conceived called Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children would be a catastrophic career setback, though that miscalculation has unsurprisingly been stricken from the record.)

My point is, there are all sorts of people out there—some of them even well-meaning—who are going to try to persuade you, for one reason or another, to compromise or abandon your vision.  Hell, I’ve been one of those people myself!  Both in and out of my critique circle, I’ve read material from colleagues that I deemed anywhere from deeply flawed to diabolically appalling—and some of it has nonetheless gone on to be produced and/or published.  One of the worst specs I ever read—written by a friend—went on to find a buyer and has since become a considerable hit, as well as a burgeoning cross-platform franchise.  (And, incidentally, it’s still terrible.)

It’s a good thing, then, that writer didn’t put any stock in my criticism!  Which reminds me of something master of horror John Carpenter, whos experienced no shortage of career highs and lows, said in 2014:

“I’m here for a short period of time on this earth, and, by God, I want to do it the way I want to do it.  And it may not be what you like and what you want, but fuck you.”

Yeah—ditto that.  We have to learn, as artists, to follow and protect our instincts.  Hollywood is particularly effective at driving that out of us, but writers groups can play their part in eroding them, too.  However…

Creative instincts need to be tempered with discipline of the craft, and that’s where writers groups can be invaluable.  More than the notes you might receive on any one project, participating in a regular, structured critique circle—preferably with colleagues at or above your own skill level—sharpens your analytical acumen.  You’ll learn to identify bad habits in your own writing practices, as well as deficiencies in your work, and thus more effectively diagnose solutions that suggest story possibilities.

The best possible boot camp in which to develop those skills is a writers group, whereby you’ll be reading works-in-progress by fellow scribes of comparable proficiency, workshopping solutions together, and learning to nurture and respect the creative instincts of artists—your own foremost.  And once you’ve got confidence in your instincts and mastery of your craft, there will be no limits on the fictional worlds you’ll be empowered to create.

So, if it’s worth writing, it’s worth writing right:  Be stubborn enough to protect the conceptual integrity of your idea, regardless of what others may say, but humble enough to seek out opinions and see if they can’t guide you toward the best possible realization of your artistic vision.  That’s the delicate balance every artist needs to achieve.  A good writers group can be an effective way to find it.

16 Comments

  1. Lovely post! John Carpenter’s quote is the best thing I have recently come across. Thank you!

    • Thanks, Partha! That particular quote was excerpted from an interview Robert Rodriguez conducted with Carpenter on his El Rey series The Director’s Chair. Last year on the blog, I published an entire piece about John Carpenter, who has been a huge influence on my own work.

      Carpenter’s words should unquestionably be the mantra of every artist, but there is a caveat: Yes, you’ve got to be willing to stand up for your ideas — you have to be their most forceful and vocal advocate — but you also have to have the taste and skill to recognize which ideas are worth developing. I’ve seen way too many half-assed notions get turned into failed screenplays and (self-published) novels, simply because either A) the premise was conceptually flawed, B) the execution was lacking, or C) all of the above.

      That’s why no story should be written until the logline has been pitched and polished to perfection. I can’t emphasize that more strenuously. If you can’t make your story work as a logline, you shouldn’t waste your time turning it into a full-length screenplay or manuscript. The logline is the nucleus around which all the other particles — characterization, set pieces, scenes, dialogue — organize. The particles are malleable, and feedback can help guide you as to which of those are orbiting properly and which aren’t (that’s what gets moved around in revisions), but the logline — the conceptual foundation of your story — is sacrosanct. It’s your North Star as you develop your story. Once you’ve got that nailed, you’ll be ready to write the script and receive feedback, because you’ll have the confidence to know that the story is conceptually sound and that any notes that suggest you fiddle with that aspect can be immediately disregarded. So, there’s an art to taking feedback, one that can’t be mastered until you know how to develop a bulletproof logline. For more on this subject, see my post on crafting loglines.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting, Partha!

  2. An interesting post, Sean, and close to my heart. I loved my writer’s critique group and wouldn’t have published without them. They were a fun night out, but more so, a huge source of learning to a fledgling writer. I learned and wrote and learned, some of it painful, but all of it valuable and encouraging. Fortunately, personality clashes were never a problem, and were’ friends to this day.

    My choice to leave… after 5 years btw… was because I had learned all I could from the group. We had imparted all we could impart, and I wasn’t learning anything new. It was time to get new perspectives, to up the ante.

    I completely agree with your caution to stay true to your vision and style. A group’s goal isn’t to have everyone write the same way. A skilled leader is one who keeps the discussion supportive and focused. We had frequent discussions about separating personal preferences from the hard work of craft. All in all, I recommend that starting writers take advantage of this free and valuable resource. 😀

    • Diana,

      What a lovely comment! And anyone who hasn’t read it is enthusiastically referred to Diana’s own post about writers critique groups, which offers some complementary perspectives to the points I raise here.

      I absolutely concur: A writers group is like a mentor or tutor, in that at some point, you’ve kinda learned everything they have to teach you. That’s not a bad thing by any stretch! I mean, you graduate school after a given period — the time comes to move on — so why should this experience be any different? (The only difference, of course, is that the onus is on you to recognize when it’s time to go.) If you leave a better writer than you were when you joined — with sufficient command of your craft to conceive, develop, and execute a competent story — then you’ve taken everything you could’ve from the association, and the association itself has become (happily) superfluous.

      If you think about the role of the mentor in a story — something we discussed here back in August — there’s always a scene in which the teacher releases the pupil from his apprenticeship with the assurance that he’s been given everything he needs to go off on his own (like Yoda to Luke in Return of the Jedi, or Anthony Hopkins to Antonio Banderas in The Mask of Zorro). It’s natural, therefore, to outgrow a writers group — it means you’ve grown. You’re ready. It’s up to you now to take what you’ve learned and forge a career with it. Otherwise it becomes a security blanket, a retardant.

      To briefly address the matter of personality clashes, it’s worth pointing out that screenwriting is a more, shall we say, gladiatorial vocation than that of the novelist. In my experience, authors don’t take a zero-sum worldview: Your success doesn’t mean their failure. But screenwriters, alas, often find themselves vying for the same (finite) writing assignments, and that can foster a competitive atmosphere corrosive to personal affection. And, in our particular case, given the state of the spec marketplace in a post–WGA strike environment, there was a frustration simmering under the surface of this industry — you had a generation full of skilled, capable screenwriters who’d paid their dues yet still couldn’t get a seat at the table — and I think, in our frustration, we all turned on one another, because — let’s face it — you can’t take your resentment out on a system. So there were a lot of contributing factors at work with regard to the dissolution of my particular group, more so than I even detailed here in the interest of keeping my advice a little more general, a little more universal. Though this is certainly a topic I could say a lot more about!

      But I think your closing comment — that “starting writers take advantage of this free and valuable resource” — is the most salient takeaway from the piece. And I appreciate your throwing in your two cents, Diana, because I know you had a very fulfilling experience with your own critique circle! One of the things I’ve tried to do with this blog is cut through all the noise — all the shouting voices — and give aspiring writers a basic syllabus of what they need to learn. Learn storytelling craft, which consists of three components: structure, genre, and characterization. Master the art of the logline, which is the conceptual nucleus of a story. Beware false prophets and the misapplication of craft. Get yourself a writers group and cultivate the skill of critical analysis.

      You know what I mean? You don’t need to spend a lot of money or waste a lot of time running in circles; you only need to take the right sequential steps to learn the craft. That’s what I’ve tried to offer here, and I think it helps aspirants to read and learn from the experiences of accomplished authors like yourself. So thanks for weighing in!

      Sean

      • Interesting clarification of the stressors in screenwriting. Very different for book authors, and I think it comes down to the target audience. Authors can put a finished product out there for an audience of millions. Screenwriters are marketing to a very narrow audience of gatekeepers and I can imagine the competition is intense.

        And as far as your goal with the blog – cutting through the noise and providing a syllabus for aspiring writers – well done, Sean. I think that “art” is something we never finish learning because of its creative nature. We aren’t stamping out widgets, but singular creations. Blogs full of ideas and perspectives are invaluable. 🙂

        • Having grown up as I did in such a Golden Era of Fantasy Cinema — the Lucas/Spielberg heyday that gave us Star Wars, Close Encounters, Alien, Indiana Jones, Escape from New York, Blade Runner, Ghostbusters, The Goonies, Labyrinth, Back to the Future, The Lost Boys — I’d always viewed Hollywood as a creatively hospitable place, a true Dream Factory. That’s why I set out initially to become a screenwriter and not a novelist: to participate in the creation of something as original, wondrous, and culturally defining as any of the aforementioned. Movies meant everything to us as kids, especially before any of us had a VCR, when going to see one was a true capital-E Event!

          But that was another era. Now it’s purely a sausage factory, run by a generation of filmmakers that are corporate agents, not creative artists, endlessly recycling the ephemera of their own bygone childhoods as a way of coping with their trauma over the loss of the analog world in which they came of age. So, for reasons financial, technological, and sociocultural, Hollywood has traded creativity for nostalgia, and screenwriters — who never had much power here to begin with, even when times were good — are nowadays not much more than window dressers, making small cosmetic changes to old stories that have been preserved like museum dioramas. They’re very much stamping out widgets, as you put it.

          And it occurred to me one day, around 2014, that even if I could find success in Hollywood — not that that was ever going to happen, just to be clear — why would I want it? I’d never get the chance to create my own Star Wars, or my own Back to the Future, so what was the point? A career writing Transformers movies would have been very lucrative and supremely dissatisfying. Novels have given me a broader, freer canvas to tell the stories I want to tell in the limited time I have on this earth to tell them. And I like telling stories through words, not pictures, anyway — anyone who reads this blog knows that! — so it’s a much better fit.

  3. You nailed it! These groups can be very helpful but they should always be taken lightly because everyone has their little tics. haha

    • Well, that’s the thing, right? I mean, there’s an art to giving and receiving feedback, and part of that — which I didn’t really go into here — is gauging the temperament and sensibilities of your colleagues on a case-by-case basis. (I despise talent managers — I think they’re parasitic know-nothings — but one of the tougher aspects of their job, admittedly, is managing personalities, not just careers. And the artistic personality can be a mercurial one.) We had members in our group who were very sensitive, and members who were easygoing, who were stubborn, who were bombastic. We had writers who took a very instinctive and emotional approach to their work (and their response to the work of others), and we had writers who were very clinical and analytical about the process. It ran the gamut. In each instance, you had to know the type of personality you were dealing with, and adjust your approach/response accordingly. It’s like dating, in that sense: Every colleague requires a customized approach, and not every association yields fruit.

      Thanks for chiming in, Jess! Hope life’s been productive for you! (Jess’ recently released children’s book The Golden Rule is up to 20 reviews on Amazon; let’s get that number to fifty by New Year’s!)

  4. Those instincts you mention are our voice. Without that, we’re way too vanilla to excel. Great article, Sean.

    • Thanks, Jacqui! For me, no one has defined that nebulous notion of voice better than Rush’s Geddy Lee, who said that artistic originality is when you have so many influences, you can’t even identify them in your own work anymore, and that as your confidence rises in your craft, your personality steps in front of those influences, and that forms your voice. Instinct gives you something to say, and craft gives you the tools to say it effectively, so art itself is very much a fusion of applied technique and something more esoteric, more abstract. Art is an act of magic, really, because we reify the metaphysical when we create.

      Also of note: In that same interview from which I extracted the John Carpenter quote, he and Robert Rodriguez had this to say about the role of instinct in artistic creation:

      RR: One of the things that I admire about your filmmaking is that you were always an instinctual filmmaker; it didn’t feel like you were thinking about, “What do people want to see?” — you thought about what you wanted to see and the stories that you wanted to tell.

      JC: That’s correct.

      RR: And you would live and die by your instincts.

      JC: That’s all you got. And instinct is informed by everything that you’ve experienced: everything that you’ve felt from being young, learning about the equipment, learning about movies — it all goes into this big pot, and that’s where it comes out. You don’t intellectualize it — that’s what I love about it… you just know it. You fuck-up a lot, and you make mistakes, but it all comes out of this instinct. That’s what you’ve got to keep close to you.

      Interesting perspectives on the process. Thanks, Jacqui.

  5. Ah…critique groups. I agree that they have a shelf-life, but are very necessary. For a while. I don’t need to echo all your spot-on points. I will add that when a critique groups feels as if it no longer brings you value, and you must decide what that value is, then it’s time to move on. Separating can be very hard because if enough time has gone by, these people have become more than colleagues. You’ve shared with them your writing, which is very personal. Leaving a critique group can feel much like leaving a marriage, or losing someone you care for deeply.

    If you and your critique partners don’t have the same professional goals, that will also cause a problem. You don’t want to find yourself stuck in the same place year after year because your meetings become more about the dog’s visit to the vet than looking at new work, or planning business goals.

    But having someone who’s opinion you value, read your work is so important. I know the areas in which I struggle in writing. I still need a good pair of eyes on my pages. Sometimes those eyes have to change.

    • I think the point you raise in your first paragraph, Stacey, goes to what I was talking about last month in “Different Stages”: that we need to be attuned to changing circumstances, and not stay in an association that’s run its course just because it’s comfortable or habitual. So, for that reason, I think those that are considering utilizing the resource of a writers group are advantaged by knowing ahead of time that these things do come with an expiration date. If it starts to smell a little rotten, it behooves us to recognize that for what it heralds: the beginning of the end.

      In some respects, a creative partnership — with a co-writer, or an agent, or an editor, or a critique-group colleague — is like a marriage, because there’s an intimacy that comes from bearing your soul to that other person (on a regular basis, no less). That’s what we do when we share our work — particularly an in-progress draft — and that makes us vulnerable. So, we have to treat each other respectfully, and that gets harder to do the more familiar you become with someone; we’re all guilty of having been bad spouses, or bad friends, or bad colleagues at one point or another. As my old mentor David Freeman says: “Artists make our lives more livable. So let’s take very good care of them. And let’s nourish our own creative sides while we’re at it.” That should be the guiding tenet of any writers group, for however long it lasts.

      Thanks for sharing your insights on this matter, Stacey! Always a pleasure to have your input.

  6. Excellent post, Sean. I haven’t done a formal writer’s group, although I’ve submitted a great many of my short stories to Absolute Write’s Share Your Work subforums, which is not an easy room. And from there and blogging I’ve developed beta reader friendships with other writers.

    Learning to incorporate crit–now that is probably the trickiest and most crucial revision skill of all. I’ve learned not to do it when I’m down in any way–I want to be as dispassionate about it as possible. I do one beta swap at a time, so I can incorporate critique and try it out on another set of eyes. Sometimes more subtle weaknesses are revealed with another reader after you fix larger issues. And if I miss something I’ve struck out due to the advice of a previous beta reader, I usually put it back in later.

    Of course there’s a lot more, but that’s the sort of thing that fits into a comment box. 🙂

    I’ve noticed that beta friends come and go somewhat. People have babies or other family commitments, work or health issues–you name it. Taking it out of the context of an official critique group might take a little of the pressure off. Hard to say. I get feedback, but I’ve never had the experience of a long-term group. 🙂

    • Cathleen,

      Online work-sharing forums have in many respects become the new writers groups, and they can be an immense source of feedback and encouragement. (If I’m not mistaken, that’s how Andy Weir developed the story that eventually became The Martian). And they’re a great resource for folks who don’t necessarily live in big cities, like New York or L.A., where it can be harder to find other local writers that share your particular ambitions and skill level.

      As for learning how to incorporate criticism, there’s an old axiom: write hot; edit cool. We write with our right brain and edit with our left, and the latter means learning to put your emotions and passions in check and adopting a more logical, analytical posture. That is tricky, and, like most complex skills, takes time to cultivate.

      Fellow author Jeff Ritchie suggested a follow-up to this particular post focusing on beta-reader feedback, and I think that’s an excellent idea, because it all falls under the same umbrella: finding a trusted “inner circle,” learning to receive and interpret feedback, and learning to incorporate that criticism to help improve the next draft, rather than causing us (as it sometimes can) to start “writing in circles” — trying this, then that, then this again in the hopes of finally “getting it right.” When you realize that you’ll simply never please all the people all the time, and that every draft you produce will elicit ardent (and different) suggestions for “improvement,” only then do you understand that feedback isn’t about making everyone else love your story — because that ain’t never gonna happen. It’s about making sure you’ve told the story you wanted to tell, other opinions be damned, and that you’ve told it to the best of your abilities. Feedback is a gut check, not an invitation for others to participate in your creative process.

      For those who may not know, Cathleen just released a fantasy anthology called Twelve Tales of Christmas, which you can read more about here!

      Thanks, Cathleen, for contributing to the conversation!

      Sean

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