Jun 17, 2011

The Art of Critique

Acquiring critique partners is a valuable method of learning to write better. Not only do I learn from what my crit partners have to say about my work, but I learn just as much, maybe more, from critiquing their work.

Crit partners sometimes take time to nurture into what you need. One, the writer has to learn how to communicate what he / she wants in feedback and, two, the critiquer has to learn how to effectively convey their feedback to the writer.

I think the first rule of critique is respect. The work you're reading, someone poured their time and soul into the piece. Adhere to what the writer asks for. Point out what the writer does well and gets right as well as where they could use improvement. Remember, it's only your opinion. The writer is free to choose whether to take the advice or not.

Honesty is a crucial ingredient, too. It can be tough to hear, but is essential for the writer's growth. It's better to hear it from your crit partners than in a review. Feedback should be given from a good place and attitude -- I want to help you succeed.

Trust is another key ingredient. Critiquing should stay within the group. If you must bellyache to someone, that's what spouses, significant others and pets exist for. No matter how annoyed you may be with a partner at first, when you calm down, you'll probably find something constructive you can use in what was said. I find that is pretty much always the case. Sure, there are people out there that want to rip you to shreds for the pleasure of it. This is the type of crit partner you need to step away from. There should be support and encouragement with the feedback.

Generally attacking a work without specificity is wrong. It just frustrates the writer as he / she tries to figure out what you're talking about. There's so much to keep track of, that sort of comment is throwing more leaves onto the trees in the forest the writer can't see through and does nothing for him / her. For example, generally telling a partner he or she is often vague is not very helpful. You need to point out where and suggest how to fix it. Vague critique is not constructive and may make your partners want to kick your ass. :-O Sending in scribblings you wrote on your lunch bag with a sharpie will also make them want to kick your ass. It comes down to the first rule, be respectful.

I have two critique groups. One I meet with locally face-to-face who write in different genres. And, another online who write in my genre. Taking the feedback online is easier than face-to-face. It's easier to be honest in email. However, hearing everyone else's feedback of all work is also a useful tool. And holding interest of those not interested in your genre is a good test. Plus, face-to-face we've learned to communicate with each other more effectively over time. And we've learned not to hold back. Some meetings I feel bruised afterward, but it's all good. They make me better.

It is all suggestion. As the critiquer, keep that in mind. And, your partner is depending on you to help him / her improve. Only in critique does a writer truly want honesty. If you don't want honesty, you're not ready for critique.

I consider critique one of the most powerful tools in my arsenal in learning to hone my craft. And, bonus, I get to read awesome stories by awesome writers. It takes a village to write a novel.

All my love and thanks to Dennis, Julie, Cleo, Mike, Lynda, Misha and Tony. Gary, miss ya. I'm better and stronger because of all of you. Thanks a million times over.

So what are your feelings on what makes 'successful' critique?

See what other Fantastic Friday Wrtiers have to say: Alex J. Cavanaugh, Elizabeth Mueller, Anastasia V. Pergakis, J.D. Brown, Deirdre Eden Coppel and Jeffrey Beesler.

PS -- as if having a coffee crisis wasn't bad enough, now there's an internet crisis. Bet you've heard me screaming this week. Don't know what the deal is. Replaced the modem and it went out again. Then TV channels went out. Cable guy is coming today. I hope he fixes it or I might have to kick somebody. Yes, I have discovered a worse hell than coffee tragedies ... internet tragedies. Hope you all have a great weekend.