Critique: Does It Have To Hurt?

On Saturday I attended the monthly meeting of Lancaster Christian Writers and the speaker talked about critique. What do you think of when you hear the word “critique”? Do you think “criticize” and immediately jump to thoughts of being attacked or hearing lots of negativity?

Why do we as writers fear critique? I believe it is because we pour so much of ourselves into our stories, and because we work hard to create our stories. Therefore, it can hurt when others don’t tell you that your writing is great, fantastic, perfect just the way you wrote it.

However, the truth is, even writers who have been writing for a long time, use critique groups or critique partners because the reality is no one is perfect, no matter how many years we write, we can still have areas in our writing where a reader may feel lost, confused or miss a connection we were trying to make because we didn’t write a scene or connection as clearly as we thought we did.

As hard as writing is, allowing someone or some others to critique what we have written can be harder because we don’t want to hear that we have to go back and make more corrections or cut scenes or do more showing and less telling or any of the many other issues that can show up in our writing. That’s why it’s so important to find a good critique group or partner that you can be comfortable with and that you can trust.

So, how do you find such a critique group or partner? There are lots of options, but the first thing is to be brave enough to start searching. Then, as the speaker on Saturday suggested, ask questions like “What is your writing practice?”; “Where do you want to go?”‘ “Do you have something to share now?”; “How often do you want to meet and/or share (because you may choose to meet in person once or twice a month and share through email in between)?”; “How much time can you commit?”

The idea is to find a critique group or partner who has a shared direction or similar goals.

So, once you become part of a critique group or partnership, what should critique look like?

It should be as kind and as helpful as possible. Saturday’s speaker shared that when you critique, before you speak, think about how you would receive the feedback that you are planning to give. And, when giving feedback, follow these steps as shared on “The Insecure Writers Support Group”:

  1. Remember, this isn’t your story. It might not be your genre and it will not be your voice.
  2. Approach with caution.
  3. Don’t assume automatically. If you are part of a group that only meets once a month and you only see a small sample of someone’s writing, don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are unsure of something before you offer feedback.
  4. Make suggestions; offer a suggestion instead of just stating the problem. This can be very helpful to the writer.
  5. Limit the proofreading. In other words, don’t worry so much about misspelled words, grammar and technical stuff, as those should be pointed out by an editor or line editor. A critiquer should be more focused on the content of the story: what works or doesn’t work and why; is a scene confusing; do you get a clear picture of the time frame and the setting, etc.
  6. Praise what works. This helps the writer go away without feeling total failure and defeat, but it also helps the writer to know what works, what they did well.

You may want to look at Critiquing in levels, as the Saturday speaker shared:

  1. Cudos and congratulations for completion.
  2. What did you notice most? And use “I” statements: “I understand why this character did this.”
  3. Ask questions: Why did the character do that?
  4. Comment on what worked why.
  5. Comment on a problem but do not tell how to fix it.
  6. Make a suggestion on how to resolve a problem.
  7. Read through it carefully and do things such as line edits.

What are some tips for how to react and respond to receiving a critique (as per Saturday’s speaker):

  1. Listen without responding.
  2. Take 24 hours before responding (it’s a good idea to have contact information of your critique group or partners for this purpose).
  3. During the 24 hours, walk away. Try not to think about it and rehash it in your head. Instead take a walk, maybe tell yourself some nice positive things.
  4. After 24 hours you should feel better and be ready to make improvements to your writing. You will realize you have room to grow.

Also, when you are being critiqued, remember to ignore personal attacks and don’t take it personally. Remember, that even though it may feel like it, you are not your writing. Then look for common themes from the critique group. If several people mention the same thing, it may show a legitimate problem that needs fixing. Look for “why” something works or doesn’t work.

The speaker of the Saturday workshop was Lisa Bartelt. You can find her at Beauty on the Backroads blog.

I have read several of James Scott Bell’s books on writing, and one thing he says is “Never stop studying and learning your craft.”

So, remember, there is always room for improvement. Also, remember that writing rules and what editors/publishers look for do not always remain the same. Things in the writing industry are not static; things change.

Do you have a critique group or partner? I hope it is a mostly positive experience for you, and if it’s not, you may have to look elsewhere for a critique group or partner. You may even want to be part of more than one critique group.

Feel free to share your critique experiences in the comments section, but even if the experience you want to share is negative, please be respectful with your comments.

 

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