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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Essential Critique Group Supplies: Life Boat and Life Preserver

Okay, so you've decided what you want to participate in a critique group, you've found some people you're willing to try it with, and you've decided on a schedule. Now the real nail-biting begins. Now you have to post your writing for shreddage. Now you have to critique.

In this post, we'll examine how to offer constructive critiques and how to handle the critiques you receive.

Life Boat: Offering Constructive Critiques
I think the most important thing you do in a critique group is give valuable critiques. That's the part of the crit group that everyone will see. They won't see your reactions to crits, your painstaking efforts to revise, your tears, laughter, eye-rolling, whatever the case may be. Nor should they, but I'll talk about that in a sec.

They will see your critiques. They'll get a sense of what you read for, how you write, and what kind of person you are—through the critiques. Since I believe that every person should be treated with kindness and respect—regardless of whether you think they're writing/story/etc is good—I believe that critiques should be given in a tactful manner. Most people figure out that I’m incredibly sarcastic and like to laugh pretty quick. They know that I'm a character-driven reader. They know I like a little romance and a lot of spunk. They know this because it's how I critique their work.

Deliver your critiques with tact and honesty. I asked a writing buddy of mine if I could post my critique on her work. (You should check out Christine's blog. She's awesome.) Her writing is in black, my critique is in red.
I was better - the sounds were not so loud and I seemed more attached to this place. The light-headed feeling I had earlier began to subside. I felt normal - which included anxious and crazy in my world. (You're basically telling me the same thing over and over. I'd cut this last sentence. Or if you like it better than the others, cut one of them.)
Yes, I crossed something out, but I gave Christine a reason why I thought she should cut it. Some things don't need an explanation, like striking unnecessary dialog tags, extra words, etc. Other things though, you should let the person know what you didn't like, where you got confused, or why the section should be cut.

Or this one:
I sat up and rearranged myself in the chair. (What? Rearranged herself in the chair? How did she do that exactly? Like Mr. Potato Head? LOL)
I try to infuse my critiques with exactly what I think without being too serious, mean, or tactless.

It's also important to give your overall impression of the piece of writing as a whole. Is it flowing too slow? Too fast? Are you interested in reading more? Would you stop here if you could? Why? Do you like the characters? What about them do you like? Not like? Wish they would do?

I think to survive the stormy seas of a critique group, you need a life boat. Giving good critiques will keep you afloat because even if you end up leaving for whatever reason, you've held your head high, put forth your best effort, and done your part.

Life Preserver: How to Handle Critiques on your Writing
In order to stop yourself from drowning in the pool of writing funk, you'll need a life preserver. Getting critiqued is a shark-infested ride. Even though you've signed up for it, want it, maybe even need it.

It's still not easy.

My heart pounds every time I post something, especially when I see the little "new posts" next to my critique board. Every. Time.

I've not always agreed with the critiques. The most important lesson you can learn is this: You don't have to agree with every critique. I learned this from my very-wise DH. He teaches sixth grade and he tells his students, "Just because someone gives you a suggestion doesn’t mean you have to change your writing."

Because it's your writing.

I carefully consider everything every critter says. If I agree that it should be clearer, I reword, find a stronger verb, or rewrite the scene completely. If someone asks me a question that has clearly been answered in the scene, I ignore them. In private. I never (and this is very tempting) go back and try to re-explain it to them. Number one, this makes you sound like you didn't appreciate their critique. You come off sounding defensive. You need enough confidence to know that you did, indeed answer the questions and for whatever reason that reader missed it. It's their problem, not yours. Don't argue with them, don't re-explain. In private, think to yourself, "She must have just missed that part. Oh well. It's clear enough." And leave it alone. (This is where having confidence comes in.)

The only thing I do after a critique (usually) is profusely thank the person for their critique. I might ask them to clarify something in their critique I don't understand, but that's it. I really try to avoid defending my work.

Here's your packing list:
• Use tact when critiquing – what you say reflects back on you
• Be honest and real, but kind
• Explain yourself when possible
• Give an overall impression of the writing

• Don't defend your writing
• You don't have to change everything someone suggests
• Do carefully consider every point a critter takes the time to make
• Thank the person for their critique

Thus ends the Critique Group wave of posts. Questions? Comments? Concerns? Need to know more? Email me: elanajohnson@querytracker.net

Bon Voyage!

1 comment:

Christine Fonseca said...

Nice job Elana...I could have used this post before I joined a group - but I guess I had the BEST critigue lifegaurd possible...:)