Wednesday, January 18, 2017

On Critiquing and Being Critiqued

Congratulations on taking first step to improving your work. 
Remember, there is always more to learn and practice helps.


On Critiquing
Being critiqued and critiquing others is about trust. Whether you are trusting someone to read your work and be honest with their feedback or someone is trusting you with the task, each side must be being willing to be honest and let go of judgment. 

It is not about stroking your ego or someone else's. Narcissism is not allowed in the critiquing world. You don't benefit by people telling you your work is good - that only makes you feel good.

You benefit by people telling you what works and what needs improvement. In the critiquing world, it's about the craft of writing so if you want a pat on the back, a cookie or an ego stroke then let your family and friends read your work.

When getting your work critiqued, the intent of the reader is to help and support your talent. Always remeember this. During a critique session, a fellow writer should read the pages beforehand. What works, what needs work, and how to make work better should be focus of critiques. 

When critiquing, reading with an objective eye and finding a way to give your opinion without being mean, disrespectful or insensitive is key. Your delivery counts. My favorite thing about critiquing someone else's work is it helps me become a better writer.


Tips on critiquing

1. Remain objective
When critiquing always refer to the project, the characters, the prose, sentences, chapters (etc.) and not the person/author. No matter if you agree with piece, judge the work and not the person who produced it. You must remain objective even if it is something you might not normally read because of genre or subject matter. The trick is to apply what you know to the piece in hopes it will help.

2. Be honest and open
You never know what a difference saying what's on your mind about a piece you read can mean for the overall work or for the author's writing journey.
Make sure to give the work your full attention. Read all lines carefully, jot notes as you go and make overall notes at the end. In a second sitting for shorter pieces, read it twice if there's time so your thoughts can bake and the author can use your critique.

3. Always show respect 
Know everything you read of someone else's will not necessarily be your thing but it is someone else's, so be respectful. Remember the person invested time and effort in order to write so no matter what level or state the writing is in, they deserve respect.
4. Set up a process that works for partners and groups 
Before a in-person critique session, set up a process to avoid arguments and situations where a writer feels the need to defend their work. One option might be the author can only ask the critique to repeat or clarify and at the end can ask questions or the author should only listen during a critique.

5. Your opinion matters but only in realm of how to make project shine. 
Give your opinion but remember the piece isn't yours so don't try to change it as if it were. It's OK to say as a reader I would've like to see more of this or I didn't understand that. However, male constructive changes based on what makes a story good. Elements such as; character, plot, voice, tone, prose, structure, flow, suggest use of different words, eliminate cliché phrasing and lazy prose, etc.

Things like "I don't like this character or this part isn't working" aren't helpful. Even I liked it, isn't very helpful to someone seeking guidance on elements that need to or could be improved on. Learn to provide reasons why you feel a certain way about someone's writing or story. And ask yourself how can I help? And remember even if they don't take your feedback you did your job.
6. What do you like about the piece?
Always start with what you liked. This is common practice. There is always something good to say and this should be celebrated before you discuss what you think can be improved on.


Tips on Being Critiqued

Are you really ready for critique?
You must first understand that being critiqued is not a personal attack. And also that it is one person’s opinion. Ultimately you decide if any changes are made. You don't have to make any changes. 

But you must be willing to ask yourself if suggestions can make your work better and if they are valid then why say no? Telling yourself, "This person doesn't get me or my story," is a dismissive facade people adapt to keep from getting their feelings hurt. Feeling like you suck or not feeling like your writing is good enough is a defeatist mindset. People critiquing you are not out to get you or make you feel bad about your writing so snap out of the pity party that you might fall into after a critique. Digest the info by taking time to look at it and then setting it aside until you can look at it again without someone's opinion hurting your feelings or chipping away what little confidence we writers have.

If you are not ready to divorce yourself from your piece and look at it objectively without feeling torn to shreds afterwards than you aren't ready for a critique.

How do you know you’re ready? 
Start small with one short piece (chapter, short story, a few pages) and monitor your reaction to accepting and processing critique. If getting an opinion might stall your creative process, then you aren't ready. Since the purpose of a critique is for you to see how your work is being read; is it pushing propaganda with too much preaching, teaching and whining, is it ripe with too many themes, does it push emotional buttons, confuse people but not in a good way, is beyond the realm of believe-ability, full of plot holes or devices, etc.

In the end, if you get a critique and find yourself dismissing feedback with statements like, "They don't get me," or "They don't know what they're talking about then you're not ready. Or if you choose not to make feedback then you aren't ready. If the feedback will impede your creative process in a way that is debilitating then you aren't ready.

Positive ways to make suggestions:
·         A stronger word would be…
·         This could be more compelling or exciting if…
·         You could try this...

On being in a group
If the group deadlines and workload become too much to handle from the beginning of at any point then say so and try to come up with an alternate plan or bow out.

Remember during the process to be coachable and get over yourself because being critiqued is about learning the craft of writing and making your work the best it can be.