A lot of people look at writing as a solitary profession and, in a way, it is. Unless you are working with a co-author, you tend to research and write on your own. If you're like me, it's difficult to write if there are too many distractions. I don't mean if there's too much noise, etc., but too many demands on me by family members and friends. The phone calls during the "business" day when I'm trying to write. The "requests" that something be done around the house. Because of that, I tend to pack up the Eee, my notes and my iPod and run off to one f the lcoal coffee shops or the library for a couple of hours to write.
That said, for me, there is one aspect of writing where it is no longer a solitary profession. That's when it comes to critiques. I don't know about the rest of you, but I much prefer an in-person critique group. There is something about the face-to-face interaction during a critique session that I need. It's part social, part getting immediate feedback on my stories without the possible misunderstandings that come from email.
It's been a long time since I've been part of a "live" critique group. There are several in my area and my reasons for not joining them are myriad. Then the local library decided to start a critique group and asked me to head it up. This is a new role for me and one I take seriously, especially when it comes to the actual critique part of the group. And that sent me to the internet looking for a how-to guide on critiquing.
One of the best, not only because it follows my own philosophy but because it is SHORT comes from a guest blog at Nathan Bransford's blog. Rick Daley sums up the art of giving and taking a critique very nicely. When giving a critique, you should follow what he calls the "sandwich technique": start with a positive note, give your honest opinion about the work and then close on a positive and encouraging note. One of the best things he says, in my opinion, is to be careful when rewriting part of the work you're critiquing. Changing a word or phrase is one thing, but rewriting whole passages is more than critiquing, it's changing the voice and that is not what you want to do.
So what should you not do when critiquing:
- don't be too apologetic because it undermines what you're trying to say,
- don't hunt for something to crit. Sometimes the work really is good.
- don't limit your critique to just saying good things if you see something that needs to be worked on just because you are afraid of hurting their feeligns. You don't help your critique partner that way,
- on the opposite side of the coin, don't be a jerk about the critique either. Your critique partner will get much more out of your critique if you don't go into attack mode.
When you are the one receiving the critique, what should you do?
- don't pout if you don't like what you hear,
- wait until you get all the feedback before considering changes
- seriously contemplate your changes. Take your time and think them through.
- look for common threads in the feedback and start from there
- if someone provides a rewrite as part of their critique, consider it and try to figure out what they were getting at, but don't just copy it. To do so may change the "voice" of that particular passage,
- ask for clarification if you don't understand something said in a critique,
- thank the people who took time to read and then offer a critique of your work.
There are some other sites offering suggestions on how to critique: