It can be hard to receive the most constructive of criticism. We want to jump in to explain (that’s not what I meant!) or defend (of course my character would wear a pink tutu!) or tell the other person that she’s wrong, wrong, wrong! Being silent gives us no other choice but to listen. In the end we can disagree, but first we have to listen.
My own, much less formal, critique group evolved in a more loosey goosey manner. Writers do talk during their critiques—to answer and ask questions, to explain why we made a certain choice, etc.
I thought that loosey goosey format was working for us until we got a new member. He never stopped talking. He spent all his time defending, arguing, and explaining. When we questioned a character’s motivation, he said we were wrong. When we made a suggestion for improving something or other, he was ready with reasons why he couldn’t. He spent a lot of time explaining what he was setting up or what was coming next. It didn’t matter how many times one of us pointed out that that he couldn’t sit on every readers shoulder to explain, that if it wasn’t on the page it didn’t matter. He persisted.
A lot of the same issues came up session after session. I realized that he wasn’t listening. He was too busy defending and explaining to listen. And then I realized that he didn’t want a critique group. He wanted an audience. He was the dreaded critique group turkey.
Since then, I’ve closely monitored my own behavior to make sure I’m not doing the same thing. I keep my mouth shut, I listen, and only then—after all the talking is over—do I ask questions.
It’s hard, but it’s important. Don’t be a turkey!