I attended the monthly meeting of a writers group a few months ago and at the end, there was a critique session for members who had work to share. It had been a long time since I’d actively participated in a critique group with people I didn’t know well. In a perfect world we’d all share our well thought out opinions and the other person wouldn’t take it personally. Alas, we don’t live in a perfect world and we’re writers which means that every time we put fingers to keys or ink to paper, our heart pours out. It’s hard when someone stomps on a piece of your heart.
Since I’m relatively new to this group, I sought out the leader via email, after the meeting to inquire about the session. She gently informed me that, while I was not the only one, my thoughts were not as constructive as they could have been. Oh NO! The last thing I wanted to do was be hurtful. I was also concerned because I walked away from the particular story in question thinking “I like that, I can’t wait to see what will happen with that character.”
I sent an apology to the person I hurt. I wanted to own that I was hurtful without reneging on my critique. I stand by what I said, but clearly, I could have expressed myself more constructively.
The next thing I did, was reach out to writers I know and trust and ask for their thoughts on giving and receiving critiques. I got some great feedback. Today I want to share what I’ve learned about giving critiques as well as gather more intel from our readers. In a later post, we’ll discuss receiving critiques.
On giving critiques:
“Be kind first. Be positive second. Be honest third.” Karon Thackston
“Present your comments less as judgment and more as observation.” Jamie Wallace
“Honor and respect each other – givers and receivers. Respect the hard work that goes into a piece when you give criticism” – Susan Nye
“Think about the writer’s goals for the piece you’re reading, not your goals. Don’t pick apart someone’s horror novel, for example, because you don’t care for the genre. Determine what he or she is trying to achieve and incorporate that standard into your critique. Be honest, be constructive, be compassionate.” Tracy Hahn-Burkett
“Be honest, but generous in giving them. Find positives, not just negatives. Be aware your opinion is not necessarily fact.” Megan Hart
“My best advice is BEFORE giving criticism, to make sure the writer is willing to hear it without argument. If the person is going to debate with you about your feedback, you’re both wasting your time.” Lisa J. Jackson
What is your advice for offering constructive, criticism?
Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. Her words have appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe.