FRIDAY NOTES & NEWS: Biting My Tongue and Other Useful Skills

CommuterLit editor & publisher

By Nancy Kay Clark
CommuterLit editor and publisher

IN A critique group, so much depends on how the different personalities rub together. Many times, I have witnessed a participant graciously take feedback from one person, but reject the same feedback, differently stated, from another person. But I don’t think the difference depends entirely on how diplomatically the critique was delivered—though some of it obviously does. There are just some people, regardless of what they say or how they say it, who you automatically push back against. On a visceral level, you recognize the person as a rival or perhaps an authority figure or gatekeeper. 

Because I facilitate many critique groups, I often find myself falling incrementally into these adversarial relationships despite my best intentions. When I finally become aware of these underlying dynamics, the first thing I do is bite my tongue. The second thing I do is ask myself these questions:

1. Am I insisting on getting my point across to a participant just because I want them to admit I’m right about their piece and they’re wrong? 

2. Does it matter who gets credit for offering good feedback? If the person takes the critique better from another person in the group and not me, why not allow the other person to give the feedback?

3. Am I feeding the rivalry?

4. Is it my delivery? Am I being too blunt? (Quite possibly.) Is it my body language? How can I rephrase?

5. Do I constantly reject feedback from a particular person? And if so, why?

6. Am I talking too much and not letting anyone else speak?

7. Do I find myself defending and explaining what I have written?

8. Am I listening?

9. Have I come to the group meeting with an open or closed mind? A wide or narrow agenda?

Contributor News

Douglas J. Ogurek’s short story collection, I Am Going to Change the World . . . One Intestine at a Time, has been picked up for publication by Plumfukt Press. Douglas is also editing the fifth installment in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction’s UNSPLATTERPUNK! series, slated for publication in spring 2022.

Gail Murray‘s travel piece “Hey, Go Virtually” has been published in Reader’s Digest Our Canada – February/March 2022 issue.

Harry Posner has just released his newest novella trilogy entitled Malware, available at Booklore in Orangeville, Ontario, or directly from the author at Harry is also co-editor of SPIKE: Poems in the Time of Pestilence, a collection of 80 poems from 40 poets just released from the region of the original Saugeen territories, available at Booklore in Orangeville, or at

  1. That’s a good set of questions for anyone in a group discussion to keep in mind. I think you do a remarkable job facilitating our writing group and your own comments are usually spot on.

  2. You are so bang on. Most writers crave comment. After all, we want to improve that specific piece and to improve our general skills, but we are prone to having our feelings hurt. I like to think I’m pretty open to receiving comment / criticism partly because I feel I’m still at the steep part of the learning curve. So, the stage of development a writer is at, or thinks they’re at, is important.

    And I feel very awkward giving commentary other than, “I really liked it” for the same reason. I have espoused enough “advice” that (I found later) was so wrong, I blush recalling such incidences as I write this. Criticism and review is a high art, that requires good people skills as well as good literary ones.

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