Frances Susanne Brown
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Protect Your Muse                                                              

It’s Spring, but still - Don’t Put Weed Killer on Your Muse

Whose opinion do you really want, and how much credence should you give those opinions?

The worldwide web is a blessing and a curse. Once was the day when your writer’s group consisted of local aspiring writers. You had the advantage of the face-to-face. The personal touch. The human factor. People measured their words more carefully when they sat across the table from you. But now, you can interact with wannabes all over the world.

It’s a blessing, and curse.

I belong to a number of critique groups. One is sponsored by a local bookstore. I love this group, mostly because we meet face-to-face. I can look them in the eye when they give feedback on my work. And mine on theirs.

But I do a lot online, meaning I can interact with writers the world ‘round. This sounds like a blessing. Still, a writer must be selective in choosing whose advice he or she asks for.

Case in point: I was recently invited to join a smaller, more independent online critique group by one of the larger group’s members. Of course, I joined. I’m looking for the most bang for my buck when it comes to learning and improving my craft.

What a mistake. I received my first critique, with a disclaimer by the author: “I’m often thought of as very critical and harsh, but I try to give a complete critique.” Is that like the warning on an efficient laxative? I’m thinking maybe so. Complete, if extremely uncomfortable?

The first line of the critique read, “I’m a stickler for punctuation and grammar, And commas expecially. So,  Be prepared for what I have to say.”

Oh my.

A misspelling and two grammatical errors in the same line were the warning. I’ll be honest – I didn’t bother to read on.

The first thing I did was to look up this “author” to see just what she’d accomplished. Nothing I could find on any Google search, or on Amazon. Then I read her introduction to another group member: “Ive just started writing again after many years. Im still working on my first novel but havnt finished it yet.”

Nuff said.

I've earned my scars in the writing arena. Numerous national magazines have published my articles over the past ten years. My memoir is under contract and due out later this year. I’ve completed two novels, working on my third. I busted my butt for three years earning an MFA that I'll be paying loans on until I die.

Fellow writers, PLEASE, do me a favor. Vet your critique partners as though you were interviewing them for a job. After all, they are going to be extending opinions and criticism on your hard-earned words. Browbeating you, undermining your confidence. They should, at least, be able to say they are qualified to do so.

I can’t help but wonder how many budding novelists have been squashed like bugs by over-opinionated critique partners. I mean, let’s be honest here – we’re laying all our stuff out there and saying, okay, what do you think? Should I live or should I die?

Don’t let ill-advised criticism kill your muse. She deserves better. So do you.

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