An important part of my writing experience and growth has been the process of giving and receiving critique. The first time my novel was accepted for work-shopping in a Writer’s Conference I was so sure I had passed a significant hurdle–if accepted, it must be that it was really good. Whoa, was I surprised! After that experience, I put the manuscript away and began think of an alternate plan for my second career. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for me to realize the value of honest feedback and I began the painstaking task of rewriting. When I revisit that initial draft I shudder to think I was oh-so-proud of it.
In this post I’d like to toss out some suggestions for giving and receiving feedback about your writing. Whether you participate in a Writing Critique Group, an Internet Forum, one-on-one sharing, working with a professional editor or workshopping through a University or Writer’s Conference, open yourself to enjoy…yes, enjoy the opportunity that such give-and-take provides.
- Prepare yourself emotionally and mentally for the process of critique. Don’t go into a session expecting universal acclaim of your brilliance and form the intention to help your fellow writers.
- Familiarize yourself with the process established by the group. If it includes pre-reading the work of other participants, be sure you have read and written comments on their submissions.
- If required, have copies of your manuscript available for all participants.
- Listen with an open mind to the comments of other members of the group.
- Ask clarifying questions after the reviewer has completed their analysis.
- Avoid becoming defensive. If requested, explain your point of view.
- Take notes on all remarks.
- Watch for similarities. If more than one member express the same idea, take a good, hard look at that suggestion.
- Brainstorm with the members for solutions to problems with plot etc.
- Do NOT make significant changes right away. However, go ahead and correct grammar and typos..
- Remember that this is your work. You may be the only one who has the whole picture. Be careful about taking every suggestion to heart or you may lose your story or poem in the process.
- Return the favor and give a well-thought-out review to other members of the group.
- Preface the session with what you like most about the work.
- Ask the author how they feel about their work, if they can identify strengths or areas needing improvement.
- Be specific. Don’t just say, “This doesn’t work for me.” Give examples of where improvement is needed and how it can be accomplished. For example, “This would work better for me if, instead of telling me she feels scared, show me how it affects her using sensory detail.”
- Give the author a chance to ask questions and/or to explain his point of view.
Now, for some discussion:
- Do you participate in some sort of critique forum? What kind?
- Does your group have any rules of engagement you would like to share?
- Can you add suggestions to those I have outlined?
- Do you have any anecdotes you would like to share about your experience with critique?
I hope you will join in with me helping your fellow writers and poets. Please leave your observations or suggestions in the comments section of this post. Happy Writing. Enjoy the process.
I wish there was a better opportunity for proper critique in Blogland at large…
[…] I just wrote my “Wordsmith Wednesday” post on that very issue. Critique is absolutely vital. We are too close to our “babies” to see […]
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This is a valuable post. Hope it sinks in for all of us. Bravo! Well done and well considered.
Many writers are in such a hurry to get their work out there…great advice ..ELiza Keating
This is most informative and helpful. It is only through someone elses eye that our writing can be viewed objectively.
I have written stories and read them many, many times before posting; yet, when a comment is made that shows me a grammatical error I am so grateful because even with all of the re-readng I had missed it. Knowing another language can greatly change how you write, too. I tend to write backwards, sometimes, because that is how Spanish is written.
I don’t think a critique will change your wriiting; rather it will improve what you are trying to convey. My pet peeve is if someone is mean spirited in the way they critique. When you are doing that it is only because you are willing to do whatever you need to do to elivate yourself. Let be kind ….!!!
Write on Writers …..
Great post. I’m a member of writing.com and one of the most valuable things I’ve learnt from their site is how to respond to feedback. I especially liked what you said about not changing your writing immediately as you do have to weigh up one persons opinions vs your own opinions. Every now and then I go through and do a good edit of all my writing but first I collect all the feedback onto a word file and consider all the advice. Wonderful suggestions here for writer’s. Thanks for sharing.
Great advice, Bardic. Thanks also for the “reference” to writing.com I’ll have to check it out.
constructive critique is hard to find, rude criticism is tough to digest…..
It is, Trisha, but it is often helpful. We just have to chew it thoroughly before swallowing so as to be able to assimilate whatever might be nourishing in it. Whatever we do, don’t let it discourage. I stopped writing once when someone told me, “I’d never read this book.” A while later I questioned her about it and was able to “hear” what she was trying to say. (I ended up dropping a prologue that kept the reader from getting into the meat of the story).
Thank you for some concrete ways to give feedback and receive it…
For me, the most valuable part I took from what you wrote is to correct the punctuation and grammar and then think about the content…if I understood that correctly.
I have not participated in a group session yet, and this will serve me well as a guide when I do.
☮ Siggi in Downeast Maine, USA
You got it. Wait for a while before making significant changes. See Bardicblogger’s comments for some more advice related to this point.
From your lips to our(proud writers)ears.
Learning to take critiques as a pat of creative writing is something, or maybe the last thing, you ever learn. Every comment is worth something valuable. A writer is too close to her work to properly revise. Can you be critical of your child? I mean really critical!
Even non-fiction authors are mothers that bore, with great pain, a work of art. You must not only understand and accept scathing words concerning your “baby,” but you must seek them out.
Lovely and important
You make the point that we are too close to our work to be able to see it objectively. This is oh-so-true, Jay. In addition, we’ve read it so much we become immune to typos and grammatical errors because we see what we expect to see. Thanks for bringing out this important point.
I believe that no matter how good we are at whatever we do, there is always something new to learn , so that’s why we should be open to suggestions, to corrections to apply. Also there are different definitions to what perfect, beautiful, brilliant etc. mean, when it comes to different people. I personally have no problem if someone leaves a comment at my blog, pointing at my weaknesses in the writing, or giving me advice how to improve, is not going to be offensive, even the opposite, next time I won’t do the same mistakes. But knowing not everyone think the same as me, when I comment, I try to concentrate on the details I liked the most… Of course there is always the way a constructive feedback can be offered, if you show the wrong with kindness, with friendly touch anyone would accept it …
Wise observations, Blaga. I sort of feel that the poetry communities like Jingles and One Stop are about encouragement and don’t look for critique, although I will if asked and try to be constructive. On the other hand I value the one I belong to (Facial Expressions) that is about critique. I find that 99% of the time I can find something to like in a poem. Honestly, I can’t remember when I haven’t. Thanks for commenting.
Well, I know my writing has emotions that engage the reader’s attention, but I also know that I have no idea what is wrong and what is right when it comes to forms and styles, plus English is not my first language, so I’d rather have people tell me when I’ve made mistakes thank just getting a “hooray” for something that is not in a good shape. I was posting poems at Facial Expression before, but I felt bad that not knowing much about poetry I can’t really offer a comment which will give advice to improve the writing, and more or less I base my comments on what feeling the poem/story gave me, of course there is always the respect and the appreciations of someone’s effort to put feelings and words together, which deserve at least a good word for trying.