Critique Groups: Be Afraid?

Trojans. Can't live with 'em, can't burn them at the stake.It’s terrifying, sharing your art with other people for the first time. I remember one of the earliest songs I wrote for my Best Beloved, who practically worships the water I walk on, so a positive response was essentially guaranteed.

Fail. Couldn’t do it. I had to sit in a chair around the corner so I couldn’t see her while I sang. (I’d done pub gigs where I played and sang for 4 hours, so it’s not shyness, believe me.)

How on earth can you ever share your art with a critique group? You know, those people who think you want their feedback?

Isn’t that like chumming the water and when the sharks come, doing a cannonball into the feeding frenzy?

No Fear. (Okay, Less Fear)

My short response is, choose carefully who you ask, and tell them the level of feedback you want. We all want feedback, but as a complete beginner, what we need most is praise for what’s working, even if it’s just the effort, and not the results.

For more on the subject, read Rosanne Bane’s article on who to ask for feedback. She talks about the levels of feedback, and how to clarify what you’re looking for.

Even Scarier?

But what if some unscrupulous member steals my idea? (As a member of a huge songwriting group, I’ve heard variations on this for years.)

Ideas can’t be copyrighted, so if someone “steals” your idea, there’s nothing you can do. In fact, all they have to do is wait ’til your book is published and steal it then, right?

It’s a non-issue. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Probably a dime a gross. Anybody wants ideas, there are even websites that will email you an idea a day, free.

What matters is the effort you put in, and the art you bring. Anybody lazy enough to steal an idea is too lazy to do the incredibly difficult emotional labor of writing a worthwhile book.

Yeah, But What If They DID Steal It?

Even if some honest soul was inspired by your idea and inadvertently copied it, what are the chances that two different people are going to write the same book?

Similar story lines don’t mean similar stories. Just look at the marvelous movie O Brother Where Art Thou? It’s, plain and simple, Homer’s Odyssey. But has anyone ever confused George Clooney for a Greek warrior in that movie? I think not.

Here’s a short test for making decisions about your life as an artist: is this about fear? If so, it’s wrong. Any decision made based on fear is wrong. (Same is true for money, but that’s another discussion.)

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