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Monday, April 07, 2008


A Good and Fair Critique

Recently, I decided to overcome some old fears and submit some work for critique to a writers group. I had to finally admit to myself that this was necessary. As writers, it's a good idea to show our work to fresh eyes because being so close to your work sometimes makes it hard to see what it's missing.

I gained some useful advice, but also some that I had to take with a grain of salt. Anytime you submit a piece for criticism, you'll have to have a thick skin for some of the remarks, but it's also vital to remain open to what others have to say. While it's always nice to receive glowing feedback from our friends and peers, it's wise to give your work to unbiased readers. This won't include your mom, sister, brother, favorite uncle. The critics need to have a basic understanding and appreciation of writing as a craft. They can be prolific readers, but it's almost always better to show your work to other writers.

I think that people who critique others need to keep in mind these points:
  • The author is probably very proud of her work, so don't trash it. Is there anything good you can find in the piece? Anything? If so, say something positive about it.
  • Do nitpick on spelling. We're writers after all; our spelling should be excellent.
  • Really read it, not skim over it. You can't do an honest and fair critique if you don't fully consider the work.
Likewise, the person who submits a piece for criticism needs to keep in mind:
  • This is only someone else's opinion. You don't have to agree with it, but see if there's anything you can take from it to make your work better.
  • You can't be ultra sensitive to criticism. Everyone isn't going to love everything you write. Tom Clancy is a best-selling author and just about any book he writes is going to do well, but there are people in the world who don't love Tom Clancy. I doubt he's really bothered by that.
  • You're brave for submitting. Because writing tends to be so personal, it's not merely pieces of paper we send out to be reviewed; it can sometimes feel like pieces of ourselves, our "babies." If you can overcome the fear of allowing others to look at and judge your baby, you've taken a step that many others haven't.

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Blogger Angela said...

Great advice Del :o)

It's important to remember that every writer has her/his own taste, and we can't get too bogged down by every little piece of advice that comes our way.

When I interviewed Amy Tan, she was telling me about how you get to know what to expect from certain people in your critique group. She said, "This is from someone who always talks about appearances and what characters are wearing. Someone else in the group doesn't like dialogue. Another wants things tied up, or psychologically explained, while another wants things very spare.

"Everybody had a different opinion and it was good to hear their opinions. Part of the process was to discover your own voice in the midst of all this noise, the qualities of your own voice."

12:06 PM  
Blogger Cher'ley said...

Gosh, I need help with spelling and punctuation. Someyimes I've even put in a bad choice of words and I'd like a suggestion for a couple of better words.

I think it is important to let the person know what you need. Of course, I usually just say, everything.

When I give a crit, I do everything that I notice, punctuation, word choices, overall concept, character comments.

Funny though, I've read and critiqued, two peoples' novels last month who were then suppose to return the favor and didn't. Go figure. I guess I shouldn't have been so fast. LOL

2:31 PM  
Blogger Cher'ley said...

Not to mention that I SOMETIMES, type the wrong key and don't notice until I hit send.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Carol D. O'Dell said...

I cut my baby writing teeth on critique groups, and yes, there were a few terse moments, a few tears on the drive home--but if you have a supportive group you can trust, the benefits outweight the risk.

Perhaps the most important thing a writer's group has to offer is what you bring to it--committment.

My memoir, Mothering Mother was written in a critique group I attended once a month. I turned in 10-15 pages per month, and in a little over two years, I had a complete manuscript.

The group's input was invaluable--and of course, I held out for my artistic license when I felt I needed to stand my ground.

Good luck with your writing!

~Carol D. O'Dell
Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter's Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

7:32 PM  

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