Collaborative Magic (The Power of Group Criticism)

We’ve all fallen victim to the myth of the solitary genius, toiling away in their studio for hours on end and producing a finished piece of fiction or a stunning painting. Yet creative partnerships are more common than you might think.

From the likes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Elton John and Bernie Taupin, or Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, having a partner in your creative crime can work wonders. 

Author Patricia Highsmith talks about ‘snags’ in her book, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. These artistic problems crop up when a song gets stuck or a chapter stalls. The solution, she says, is not to lock yourself in a room and work the issue out in your mind. No. She insists you need to figure it out in a room, with other people. 

Creative Partners in Crime

The need for good, honest criticism lifts mediocre work and makes it great. I often fall into the solitary trap, wanting to create everything on my own. Part of it has to do with my introverted nature. I’d rather comment on other people’s work than have them pick apart my own. 

I understand the need for good creative partnerships every time I watch a compelling television show or movie. Certain characters leap off the screen and I think, how did the writer accomplish that? The truth is, it wasn’t the one person alone. The writer, the actor, the director, possibly many more, all helped shape that role. Everyone feeding in ideas to elevate the character. 

It takes so much nerve to share your own work with others. You must trust that others will welcome your ideas without mockery. But you also need to believe that the exchange of ideas can replenish your creative spirit, send you in new and innovative directions. A good creative group will nurture, enthuse and challenge you. 

I often find I learn more about my own writing when I critique others. It’s a sort of mutual metamorphosis where everyone is learning from each other. Argument is fine, so long as you’re arguing with the right people (and for the betterment of the creative work).

Charles Darwin wrote: “It is the long history of humankind (and all animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

The Right People

Finding a group of people, or even one other person, can be daunting. In my writing critique group, we are constantly talking about the best way to share and critique — always for the betterment of our works. 

Strive for Balance

Not everything needs to be critical. Heaping complaints on a work can stop an artist dead in their tracks. Likewise, gushing over someone’s work won’t help them grow. A balance of constructive criticism and enthusiasm works best. 

Strategize on What to Critique

Not every work needs the group’s input. I recall a writer who came and read a short story. We commented and gave tips to improve it. She then shrugged and said it didn’t matter, because it was already being published. So why was she wasting our time?

Bring to the group work that you want guidance on. Be open to the directions and ideas presented. Weigh the different critiques and let your gut guide you on what to use and what to scrap. You don’t have to accept every idea the group puts out. 

Embrace Disagreement

Not everyone is going to agree with what you’ve created. But be cognizant of their point of view. If they argue with passion, then they might be one to something. Listen to what they have to say. It might benefit you. 

Great collaboration happens when people are comfortable enough to challenge one another. They push each other to go higher, bigger and better. 

Tim Kane

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