Brace yourselves…

I’m going to try to be clever about taking and giving critique.

Well, I’ll probably avoid striving for clever. You know what they say about clever’s failure-mode.

There’s no good, sure-fire way to make yourself ready for critique. You work on anything–a piece of artwork, or a short story, or a novel–to the fullest extent you’re able, and then you turn it loose on the world. Hopefully, if you’re serious about it, you’ve turned int loose on a small section of the world the first time. A couple of friends from writing group, or some other people you trust to give you an honest opinion that doesn’t crush you. As writers we talk a lot about the importance of getting critique.

We don’t talk so much about how you’re supposed to give it. And that’s a little sad, because I think they’re actually more linked than people tend to assume. There’s an art-form to giving someone an honest opinion about their work without getting their back up. I speak from experience, I’ve failed at this a few times in my life. Thankfully not nearly as frequently as other people have failed at it in my direction. And maybe that’s part of my dues as a writer, developing a thick skin and learning to take the good suggestions no matter how much they piss me off.

I’m not gonna lie, if you’re in this writing thing for the long haul you need that skill.

But you need the other one too, you need to learn how to critique other people’s worth without making them get defensive and discount you. So, I’m going to give you a short 5 point list that I try to keep in mind every time I look at a new piece.

1) Stay Positive! No one wants to hear their stuff’s crap. Especially if it is. Find something nice to say. At least equally as often as you have a critique.
2) Don’t pull your punches. If there’s something wrong with a piece of work, it doesn’t help anyone to keep it to yourself. If you’ve got a problem it’s likely other people will too. There’s a little danger here, if you can’t tell your own soft spots, but you’ll learn in time.
3)Remember what you’re reading. There are different conventions for different genres. Things that work in a Romance novel don’t always work in mainstream fiction, or Sci-Fi, or Fantasy, or more or less anything else you can think of. The reverse is generally true. And I’m a big one for touting that the days of writing expressly to genre are dead, sure. You should still remember who the audience of the thing you’re reading is.
4)Read slow. If you’re not in the mood, stop and go back later. Imagine how much effort that piece of work has taken, and try to give it it’s best shake possible, just like you’d want someone to do for you.
5)Try really hard not to be pedantic. This one should be fairly self-explanatory, but it’s actually much harder than you’d think. One of the pitfalls of being a writer is our love of words, and–obviously–sometimes we get carried away. Okay, if you’re like me your general state is sort of carried away. Whichever. Potato, potato (If anybody gets that joke I will be unreasonably pleased).

Alright, small monstrous things, go and do. I’ll see you again on Friday.

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One thought on “Brace yourselves…

  1. Kate says:

    Getting a harsh critique is painful, but often necessary. It tells you where the problems are.

    Giving crit though? That’s … not always nice either. I always confirm with people what sort of crit they want. Do they want to know where the plot has issues? Do they want me to do a grammar/punctuation check? And I looking for character issues? Do they want me to make it bleed red ink or do they just want some general impressions and a general sense of where the issues are?

    Even when someone does want a full crit that bleeds red ink – it has to be someone I know can handle it. There’s gentle ways to approach even hard crit that won’t be terrible.

    I think it’s something that you need to approach from both sides of the desk too. Give it, receive it and analyze what works and what drives you nuts.

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