Thursday, November 29, 2012

You Really Are Wrong, Sometimes

35 If two different groups say the same thing, you really are wrong

The last writers' mantra said not to argue with those in the writers' group who say your prose sucks. The presumption defending the rightness of your prose is a waste of time. You are right and the group is wrong. This makes sense for the reasons enumerated there.


In the town where I live there are multiple writers' groups. I've been known to haunt more than one of them.  For the most part, the folks who go to the group at Barnes & Noble don't go to the group at the Public Library. This is an important distinction.

So, let's suppose you are writing "Lesbian Nazi Cannibals on the Moon." And someone at one group makes a specific complaint that maybe Nazism is not a viable alternative lunar lifestyle. The last mantra provides guidance: thank that person and shut up.

If you really believe your Nazi story works, take it to the other group and read the same passage. If you hear the same specific complaint, from someone who was not at the other group, this is a clue. Ignore it at your peril: You are wrong.

This is a chance for you to learn. People learn by being wrong, owning up to that reality, and figuring out something different to do.


I have a friend at one of the writers' groups I attend who tends to be blown about by every wind of criticism in the group. As a result, he doesn't quite finish anything, but churns. This is the opposite error to make.

When you have people tell you what's wrong with your prose you'll hear signal and you'll hear noise. The wise listener can filter out signal and noise. But that can be hard, even for the wise.

The thing about noise is that it is random. Half the time it'll say you're too hot, and half the time it'll say you're too cold. They cancel out. Consensus-seeking behavior can lead to a groupthink that can make the noise seem very strong. But a different group will have its own different groupthink. So, if you take the same prose to two places, you're likely to have the noise cancel out, and you're likely to have the true signal you need to hear reinforced.

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