Tuesday, May 24, 2011

WANTED:  Honest Critique

I recently put a Wanted Ad on the AQC web site for a critique partner.  I offered to critique their work if they would be willing to critique my work.   I was really seeking validation that the story concept I had created had merit and that I had done it justice.  I was very willing to receive any feedback someone was willing to offer.  Just somebody please tell me something!  Give me a clue if I’m on the right track!
Let me tell you, when you give that kind of latitude, you never know what you’re going to get.  You also can’t be upset with what you receive.  So let me just say this:  If you are sensitive about your writing, or you just want to be told its good, then give it to your mom to read.  Don’t give it to someone who actually knows something about writing. 
But if you really want to know what’s right about your work AND what could be improved, find a critique partner.  Be clear about what type of critique you’re looking for so that they can provide it.  If you’re not clear about the feedback you are interested in, you put a lot of pressure on the critique partner to guess. 
I was new to critiquing but I had two people who let me critique their work.  First of all, may I just say what an honor.  It’s so wonderful to be able to read a story that someone else created.  I admit it – I love to read – anything!  So, I felt very excited that I was going to be able to read someone’s raw material.  Material that they had written, rewritten, agonized over, and loved.  I was also very nervous that my ability to critique would not be acceptable or valuable to the writers.  But if you never take a chance and get out there, you can’t learn.  I do tend to have a perfectionist personality and I don’t want to let people down.  That can be a lot of pressure for what seems to be a simple critique.  But it’s not simple.  Not for the person doing the critique or the person receiving the critique.  We all tend to take this seriously. 
Fortunately, I received feedback from them before I had finished marking my suggestions and feedback on their work.  I was able to look at their suggestions/comments/concerns and learn from them the type of information they were looking to receive.  This was my first critiquing experience and it helped to be able to see how it’s done by others who had done it before.
In my research on critiquing, I came across a good article here.  Critiquing is not editing.  The point of critiquing is to assist the writer in improving the manuscript by getting rid of the unnecessary words and pointing out errors or inconsistencies.  I love how this article is careful to recognize that different genres require different language.  When we agree to critique another writer’s work, we need to respect the writer and the genre.  Don’t put your spin on their work.  Identify if there is a flaw in the work, and provide a suggestion or point out the error.  Don’t rewrite it to your specification.  You might not be familiar enough with the genre to do so.  If something sounds awkward, you can comment on it and suggest a change.  Just understand that the writer doesn’t have to make the change. 
Like I wrote before, I’m new to critiquing.  But I really found it to be helpful.  The writers who critiqued my work found real issues and made reasonable suggestions.  The critiques I received will help me make my manuscript better.  And that was exactly what I was looking for.  Based on the feedback I received on my critiques of their work, I provided information that will make their manuscript better too.

What about you?  What do you look for in a critique partner?  Do you look for someone who writes the same genre or a different genre?  Where have you been successful in finding critique partners?    


Anonymous said...

I look for someone in the same genre. That way, we both kind of know the standards. Developing that thick skin is difficult at first, but once you have it, it's so much easier to see how to fix those flaws your critique partner points out.


Asherose said...

Sounds like you're going to be a great critiquer - a perfectionist with tact, the best balance. When I'm looking for critique partners (and I've been running a critique group for years) I find that it's best to have a mix, but make sure it includes some who are better than you are, and some who disagree with a lot of your stuff. If you can get your own ego out of the way, you can learn the most from those people. Including the very important lesson of getting your own ego out of the way.


Anonymous said...

I think you already know where I find the large majority of my critiques, Kell.

I do, also have a few who are off site, but they are also writing students.

Critiquing is a matter of being a good reader, to my way of thinking. If there is something bothering you about the story you are reading, odds are it will bother someone else as well.

Good post!

KellieM said...

Thanks for your comments guys!

Jessie - I think you're right about developing the thick skin. It's worth it though if it improves the work.

Asherose - I love the comment about getting ego out of the way. I'm a combination of no self confidence and arrogance. The arrogance keeps you writing and the lack of confidence keeps you learning!

Peter - AQC is so awesome! I am so glad that I found this great resource. I like your comment because it doesn't have to be too complicated. If it doesn't feel right, it's probably not right.