We writers are a funny bunch. We’re introverts. Hermits. Highly sensitive but also very opinionated especially about other peoples work. What we sometimes forget is that one negative comment made off the cuff could wound someone to a point of pulling away.
It’s been my experience that most people don’t want to hear what’s wrong with their work so much as they want validation and strokes for how talented and wonderful they are.
Now, that being said…if someone asks for a critique then it needs to be based on criteria that is about the written word and not an opinion or criticism of the theme, the writer, or the style of work. There’s a fine line here and it can get blurred
Criticism–also known as judgment, opinion, or even a simple comment.
A denunciation. Fault-finding. A blindside right up-side your head.
Here’s the thing, many say that writers need to have a thick skin but that doesn’t mean they have to sit around and be attacked by a bunch of idiots who know not of what they speak.
If you’re in a writers critique group–you better be able to trust your people. Believe me when I say, just because you think your idea and/or work is all that and a bag of chips, someone will rip it apart and spit out the chewed remains of your ego and pride.
Hearing your own work critiqued can lead to a knee-jerk response filled with defensiveness–because others obviously didn’t understand. You start to explain and try to bring them to a point of agreement, but it doesn’t happen. You see the listener as an idiot and unworthy of being in the same room as your genius but alas you did ask for a critique–unfortunately, you got one.
If you’re critiquing and the subject author begins to get agitated, defensive, or flustered–stop immediately and pull back. It’s not worth pushing past a point of no return.
To give a critique there are a few things you need to consider.
- Why are you doing a critique? Are you looking to pump up your own self worth or is it to be helpful? Seriously, some people come off as pompous asses who know everything about the world and yet never share their own stuff…hmmm, I wonder why.
- If and when you’re invited to critique someone’s work whether online, in a writing group, or one-on-one, be cognizant of the fact that this is a privileged position. You’re not there to crush someone’s spirit you’re there to help them grow as a writer.
- Always–Always find something positive first. Give the good news first so to speak. Talk about the voice, the description, the setting. You may mention how smooth the writing flowed or you could tell that this subject is close to their heart. Keep notes as you listen (or read) and jot down the positive. Maybe a good description or a stand out phrase was used. Be genuine in your words or say nothing.
- Concentrate of things like: is the voice appropriate. For example would a six year old use such large words or perhaps they sound babyish. How about the technology? Are teens texting? Is it realistic? Look for things like head-jumping POV, overuse of speech tags, adverbs, repeated words–pointing out these types of things can be useful.
- Remember you’re critiquing the writing, not the person who wrote it. It’s okay to ask questions like: why did you write this in first person? or Is there anything we should know to set the scene? This is the person’s work and a critique should assist in making it better and not have a part in making the writer want to jump off a cliff.
- Do not start a critique with “You should do it this way….” That is superimposing your judgment, style, and apparent expertise on their work. A critique is not about how you would write it.
- Make sure you have something to back up your opinion. If you’re a novice writer with no credentials to your name then who are you to say that something sucks?
- Watch how you say things. Instead of saying…this is boring you may want to say that the scene needs more tension… or instead of saying that a writer is using the wrong word offer an alternative in a positive way.
- Try and remain objective. Critiquing another’s work can be difficult because we know what we’d do with it but it’s not ours to alter and improve. Step back and try to detach yourself from the emotion of the critique (while still staying positive) and stay unbiased as you look at the structural and working parts of the work.
- There is a rule of thumb to follow: If you have absolutely nothing good to say–keep your mouth shut.
And just one more thing. If you’re a writer asking a group or individual to critique your work then you’re open to criticism. Ask yourself WHY you’re asking for the opinion of others. Be honest with yourself in regards to your ego and personal objectives. It can be brutal so make sure you’re prepared to take it all with a grain of salt or to embrace the opinions as helpful guides. It can change how you think about a friend or colleague–so ask for a critique because you’re open and willing to listen and make sure the one giving the critique knows what they’re doing.
Going forward in your writing career–When your book or work is out in the world for the public to see and comment on, be prepared to either ignore or deflect the negativity that can be thrown your way. Don’t engage with others to prove a point–it’s not worth it.
So toughen up that skin and embrace your best work. It’s a part of you. I get that. Don’t forget it.
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