Monday, March 17, 2014

The Art of Critique

Over the past couple of months, I've really stepped up my study of the English language and the writing process. I already finished one book on writing, and I'm well on my way toward finishing a second for the year.

For those who know me, they know I don't have a lot of time for reading, and (as a necessity), I have to spend a good deal of time focussing on fiction since reading fiction is one of the best ways to understand the art.

Anyway, these books are giving me a new perspective on writing, which means my critiquing methods are changing and becoming more focussed on ways to improve my friends' writing. In many ways, I feel bad for pointing out things that come across as failures in the writing. I don't want to be a know-it-all, and I know that my critique group knows that my suggestions are just suggestions that they can ignore or take under advisement as they see fit.

And that's where the art of critiquing comes in. I'm not an "authority" on proper writing. My word is not gospel. It's simply my perspective based on things that I'm reading and things that I think work for the writing in front of me. And when I make notes, I try to make sure that it comes across as my opinion. I don't attack the writer or say that something sucks, I say something like, "This feels wordy, it slows the narrative (with a 'for me' implied)," and then I make a rough suggestion on a way that might help them brainstorm ideas to reword it. "Maybe say something like , only do it well." And I say that to make sure I'm being helpful, but also because I'm not putting in as much effort as they need to to make the writing polished and enjoyable to read.

The flip side of that is when I sit down to GET critiqued, it's important to remember that they're showing me the exact same courtesy. They're not attacking me or my writing, they're picking it apart to help me make it better.

The only thing we do differently in our group is that, when appropriate, we're allowed to speak up for our work. But not to defend it! When someone says something doesn't work, we're allowed to (when the critiquing member is finished speaking) explain what we were going for with that particular passage. And at our group, we recognize that this is each other's way of trying to brainstorm ways to make sure that scene works AS INTENDED. We're not defending bad writing, we're trying to understand how to FIX bad writing by working WITH the other members of the group. And the biggest reason we jump in in the middle of a critique to ask those questions is because, even with note-taking, waiting until the end opens up way too many opportunities to forget the most important questions.


  1. Reading and attending classes is great way to make yourself a better crit partner. After all you want your partners to get as much out of the crit group as you do. I applaud you for that. And no one likes a Smart A** either. Ha! This is a nice reminder that we all go to crit group to learn and improve.

    1. I'd like to make it to more classes, but all of the reading I've been doing lately has improved my critical eye so much. I just hope it comes across as helpful and not arrogant :).