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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Critiquing 101

We writers love to get feedback on our work and are satisfied with comments ranging from gushing praise to awestruck delight. After we’ve spent hours slaving at our computers, criticism is the last thing we want to hear. But the painful truth is that nobody’s writing is perfect, and one of the ways we improve is by absorbing constructive criticism and applying it to our writing.

Like so many other things that are good for us, being criticized is a pain.

Every writer knows there are two sides to criticism: dishing it out and taking it. To be effective, both must be done with finesse. If you’ve taken part in a critiquing session, you’ve learned—possibly the hard way—that not everyone has mastered the technique. When a writer is reduced to tears, throws her coffee cup, and storms out of the room, those are pretty good signs that something went wrong.

Having been both a disher and a taker, I’ve learned a few strategies that have kept me on the good side of my fellow writers. (I hope!!!)

When you’re dishing it out:

1. Lead with specific positive comments such as, “Your dialogue sounds so natural.” Do not say, “Uh, this is a pretty good story,” and then heap on the negatives.

2. Phrase your constructive criticisms as suggestions or questions. “Do you think this scene might work better if….” rather than, "This scene is boring."

3. Limit your criticisms to two or three points at the most so the author doesn’t feel picked on.

4. If the author gets defensive, stop talking! Arguing your point leads to hard feelings--and slashed tires.

5. Be supportive. Emphasize the positive aspects of the work and encourage the author to keep trying.

When you’re taking it:

1. Listen to all comments with an open mind and resist the urge to defend your writing. If possible, take notes. This keeps your hands occupied so you don’t strangle the critiquer.

2. Respect the critiquer’s views. If one person has these concerns, others may feel the same way.

3. Do not shred or ritually burn your notes. Set them aside for a few days and review them.

4. Reread your manuscript with fresh eyes and revise as necessary.

A few last words:

ü Only ask for feedback from people whose opinions you respect.

ü Give feedback that’s honest but courteous.

ü If you dish out criticism, be able to take it.


kellye said...

Great (and funny) advice, Jan.

When critiquing others, I think it's really important to be specific about what you like and the areas where you, as a reader, had problems. I have a lot of trouble seeing what works as well as what doesn't. I think that feedback about what works and why (for that reader) is really helpful.

It's good to remember that this is the view of one person, and that person may not be the best reader for that particular book.

Most of the feedback I get and give is written. In those cases (and I suppose you could apply this to in-person crits, too), I do something I learned from one of my teachers and I wait three days before contacting the person who has given me the feedback. It's amazing the emotions and thoughts that I can go through in that amount of time. Questions that seem so pressing when I first read the feedback, usually disappear in three days.


Wendy Delsol said...

Good post and some good advice.
LOL on the slashed tires :)

Jan Blazanin said...

Kellye, you make a good point about the person critiquing not being the best reader for a particular book. A good friend of mine had that experience on Goodreads. A reader bashed her book and ended the review with, "But this isn't the kind of book I like to read." Grrr!

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Great points, Jan!!! This is pretty much the dishing out and taking it rules that my critique partners and I follow,

Danielle Joseph said...

Great stuff, Jan! I am so thankful to have my critique partners!

steve.shiery said...

When I have a deadline and something dreadful has to get cleaned up and printed, tact is about all I have to work with. I envy you the time to consider and reconsider things.