I had lunch with a writer on Monday. He is considering signing up for a workshop, his first. He asked my opinion on the class, which I gave. And then I gave him my thoughts about critiques, which I decided to pass on here. Critiques, giving and getting, are part of a writer’s journey. But I have found that the road both ways can be bumpy at best, and downright dangerous at times.
Good critiques should have rules. Some that I find work well:
- If it is a verbal critique, the receiver shouldn’t speak until everyone is done (cuts down on defensiveness).
- You should include positive criticism as well.
- Negative criticism should be constructive.
- Avoid rewriting for the other writer. In my opinion, suggestions as to fixes are OK, but let her do the work herself.
These are all fairly standard. But here are some of my own rules.
Only ask for criticism from a trusted source. By trusted I don’t mean best friends or mothers, neither of whom are likely to be harsh critics in my experience. A trusted source is someone who understands what you are looking for, will work on a timeline that is helpful to you.
Respect the genre or type of writing if you are going to critique it. The same goes for the person who is going to critique your writing. They don’t have to love it, or read it regularly, but they need to respect what you are trying to do. This is particularly true if you write genre fiction (mystery, sci fi, romance, horror, etc.) Finding your writing tribe will be helpful in finding good readers. And it can be very helpful to have someone outside the genre look at it. But a literary fiction writer whose idea of genre is Pat Conroy could be a problem for your thriller with sci-fi undertones.
If someone asks for your critique, do a critique. Don’t worry about hurting feelings. Remember, you are being kind and constructive. But at the same time, help the writer make the work better by offering your honest feedback. And then offer to reread the work after the next draft is done.
Don’t get defensive. If you get the same criticism over and over, consider revising. But if you don’t agree with what someone says, disregard it. They have their opinion, and you have yours. Just make sure you aren’t being stubborn. You won’t get better at writing without feedback.