Critique Circles: Trash and Treasure by Jodie Cain Smith

Jodie Cain Smith

“I was right!  I am brilliant,” I thought to myself after presenting six pages of prose to my critique circle for the first time.  Earlier that evening as I read, my voice and hands competed for which could shake more.  After, I quietly basked in the praise.  The group bounced possible improvements around the table while congratulating me on my outstanding first showing.

Two weeks later, I swept through the door to my writers group meeting ready to hold court again.  Surely, my second six pages were every bit as splendid as the first.  However, praise was in short supply.  I deflated at the implied message from my subjects, “Not so fast, sister.  You have a lot more work to do.”

At the next meeting, ready to redeem myself after my disappointing sophomore showing, I offered six pages that were sure to please.  I must have missed the unspoken agreement among my critique circle, “She’s good and warmed up now.  Let’s see what this sledgehammer will do.”  The group released a barrage attack, identifying misspelled words, redundant sentence structure, and awkward phrasing.  “I don’t see the point of this,” said one member as he slid my pages across the table toward me.

On my drive home, I held back tears and considered never going back.  After all, I have an ego, and she needs constant fluffing.  How could I offer up another six pages of my beloved imaginary friends for slaughter?  I guess I didn’t love them enough, because I did go back.  Why?

  1. My ego is far too big for even plus-size, big-girl panties.  Maybe I will fit into my skinny jeans better without a gigantic ego busting the seams.  Humility boosts metabolism, right?
  2. Platitudes will not help me grow as a writer.  I would hate to be the overly confident queen of a pile of garbage. And maybe I could even expand into poetry.  With the circle’s help, I might one day be able to write a poem that isn’t a pathetic, those-words-only-rhyme-in-country-music attempt.
  3. Even the most rancid heap may contain something worth saving.
  4. Proofreading services are expensive.  For the price of annual dues, multiple pairs of eyes review my work.  And trust me, the mistakes are found – scratched through, circled, and underlined.

The aforementioned motives were enough for me to return, but the primary reason I go back every time is because the eclectic crew seated around the table truly wants my writing to be good.  They are protective of their craft, acting as gatekeepers, preventing the trash from piling up in their world.  They understand arguing with the invisible, forgetting to eat, sleep, or bathe because the writing bug bit you, and caressing a new thesaurus in a bookstore.  Most importantly, my critique circle knows that sometimes what I need is a group of kindred peers ready and willing to help turn my trash into treasure.

Connect with Jodie here:

Twitter:  @jodiecainsmith


About Jodie Cain Smith:

As a teen in Mobile, AL, Jodie Cain Smith listened as her grandmother told her the gripping story of an adolescence spent in 1930’s rural Alabama, the rumors surrounding her parents, and the murder trial that would alter her life.  The tale took root in Jodie’s memory until at last it became The Woods at Barlow Bend, her debut novel to be released January 2015 by Deer Hawk Publications.

While attending the University of South Alabama, where Jodie earned a BFA in Theatre Arts, she met her husband Jay.  They began their life on the Army road in 2001 and have not stopped moving since.  As an Army Wife, she has lived in six different states spanning from the extreme heat of Texas to the blizzards of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where she earned a MAE in School Counseling at Northern Michigan University, to most recently landing in South Carolina.

Jodie Cain Smith’s feature articles and columns have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Military Spouse’s Soul, The Savannah Morning News, and the Fort Hood Sentinel.

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3 Responses to Critique Circles: Trash and Treasure by Jodie Cain Smith

  1. Teresa Burgher says:

    Oh, how I miss having a critique group!

  2. I love this line: “Platitudes will not help me grow as a writer.”

    You have to want to grow and do what it takes to get better. Congrats on finding the courage to take critique.

  3. Being in a critique group is not for the faint of heart. Being stoic in the face of criticism, helpful or not, is one of the hardest things writers have to do. I’m with you all the way on this!

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