Wow, today I have had a baptism of fire.
Today I rather excitedly signed up for a writing forum - I should have taken notice of all the signs that seem now to have been shouting in my face - such as currency in exchange for reviewing which you could then use to pay your way up the reviewing priority. ( I know, I know - well maybe I was standing too close to the tree to see the woods.)
On this forum, I read a whole range of genres that I wouldn't normally read, and the idea was that you then fed back constructive criticism. I really enjoyed having my tastes challenged and when I couldn't think of anything postitive to say, then I just skipped on by.
I was amazed how within the space of an hour every review / critique I had offered had an almost vitrionic, over emotive response. I re-read my reviews, thinking maybe in my excitement I had been a little over critical - but I promise I hadn't. At least 90% of each review had been positive and then I had added a comment about what would make it even better. One of the main things that I challenged was the idea seemingly established idea, that poems had to rhyme; which was a shame because in several cases it had really constrained and undermined some of the pieces.
What I soon discovered was, that although it was desgined as a critical forum, actually, in truth these writers didn't want to receive any criticism of their work - they wanted to be told that their work was 'perfect' and they had established a community based on mutal congratulation and stroking of ego.
I promptly recinded my subscription and cancelled my account, left haunted by a comments such as "Poetry is meant to rhyme if I'm not mistaken" and "anyway your piece was too hard to read."
So what important lesson have I learnt from this and how can I protect you from making the same mistake as me;
Don't jump into mutal review sites. Build a network of author friends who you can trust, who write work you admire and who understand the professionalism needed to become a great writer. Get them to critique your work and work with them in return. Set out to create an environment and network in which you can be open and honest with each other.
And on a final note - if you put your work out there, then you have to be prepared to take the criticism with grace and good humor.
Lesson learnt. :-)