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Saturday, 13 July 2013

On Being Critiqued

I’m fortunate to have very good writing buddies who give me solid and honest feedback.

I’ve also been a member of large and small critique groups over the years.  I can show my age by admitting I was even a member of a postal critique group before the internet took off.

A lot has been written on how to write a good critique.  Having been on the receiving end of ‘crits’ as well, I think there’s also a skill in having your work critted, particularly in interpreting some of the crits.  Here are some tips I’ve taught myself over the years:

1.  Ignore the most positive critique.  Yes, honestly!  Online critique groups often insist on a certain number or ratio of critiques.  Sadly, some members simply play the system by writing positive, generic critiques, usually saying how good the work is.  That boosts the ego for a few seconds, but isn’t useful.

2.  Ignore the the least positive critique.  Some critiquers give consistently poor reviews.  I don’t know whether it’s a power thing, or insecurity, but a proportion of reviews will be destructive, or choose not to ‘get it’, just for the sake of it.  That’s not to be confused with constructive criticism – the best reviews can be from people who genuinely don’t like the piece.  This point is more to point out that some critiquers decide to give a bad review before even reading. 

(As an aside, when I do receive a destructive review bluntly telling me I can’t write, I add to my over-polite thank you E-Mail a signature linking to my publications.  It’s childish, but gives me some satisfaction.)

3.  Don’t engage in correspondence.  A short thanks for a critique, or a request for brief clarification, is fine is fine.  I don’t think sending a lengthy E-Mail explaining why the critiquer didn’t do a good job, or explaining the story, serves any purpose.  If someone doesn’t grasp my story it’s my fault for writing it badly, not the reader’s fault for not getting it.  I delete long explanations of what the writer was trying to do unread.

4.  If everyone tells me the same thing, they’re probably right, even if I disagree.  Or, even if I know I’m right, I’ll still consider going along with the majority as the chances are a publisher will disagree with me too!

5.  Some people have strange ideas.  I have occasionally had criticisms that may been been well meant, but are so way out they are easily ignoreable.  (Like the reader who told me my work wasn’t valid because writers should always state their character’s species in the first line of a story.  I think he genuinely meant it.)

6.  Use your own judgement.  Critiquers usually do a damn good job, but aren’t infallible.  This is usually a judgement call and ‘gut feel’.  In particular, where critiquers are split on something I tend to go with my opinion as a deciding vote.

So, there we go with a few things I’ve learned from being critted.  Despite some of my points, I strongly recommend having work critiqued.  Critiquers have given me so much invaluable help during my writing career.

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