Friday, July 24, 2015

Why Writers Need to Critique

Before I launch into my whole blog post thing, I need to announce that midnight TONIGHT is the deadline for my short story contest. So, if you’ve written one, I need it in my inbox ( by that time, unless you’ve specifically contacted me about an extension.

So ends the announcement, now for the post you actually came to read:
Have you ever received a critique? Did it shake your to your core, or make you want to tear your novel apart? Did it help you grow in your writing?
If the answer is yes to any and all of those questions (especially the last one… if the answer is no to the last one, then we need to have a talk and critique exchange, yes?), then you know critiques are helpful.

So what if I told you that it works the other way, too? I am here today, standing on my internet soapbox, to tell you that critiquing can help your writing become stronger.


Yes, I know, it’s a fascinating, disturbing idea. I mean, critiques are hard work. The real ones are, anyway.

Before we discuss why critiquing can help you grow as a writer, it might be helpful to discuss how to critique. Thus, my “Five Bullet Points About Critiques” (Such a handy little name, hm? The FBPAC.):

  • Ask for specific questions. Whenever you critique, ask the writer what they want you to look at. Ask for questions like “what do you think of [character]?” or “how is the pacing in [section]?”. These questions will help fuel your critique, and will give the author useful information

  • Answer these specific questions specifically. This might seem obvious, but when the author asks a question, answer it. But don’t just answer “I liked the character” or “The pacing was slow”. Be very, very detailed in your answers. Make them as long as possible without being redundant. Launch into why you liked the character, or why you thought the pacing was slow. If applicable, find examples in the writing (such as slow moments or great character handles) that support your thought. After all, it is just your opinion, and the author probably wants some proof.

  • Read the excerpt twice. I know novels/chapters/scenes can be long, but trust me, this is worth it. The first time, just read it. Don’t comment, although it’s all right to make a little notation where you know you want to. This will get the story in your mind. Then, equipped with this first read, go through and add notes as necessary. This will clear up any confusion you might have, and possibly help you notice when confusion isn’t cleared up.
  • The Sandwich structure. This isn’t a new idea, nor is it mine. But it’s a good idea. Negative comments in a critique are necessary. Without them, no one will ever grow in their writing. However, they can be difficult to deal with. So, “sandwich” each negative comment with more positive feedback. Even if the negative is “I think you can cut this entire scene”, simple compliments like “Nice verb!” and “Good character reaction!” can help soften the blow of “get rid of this garbage, imbecile”.
  • Be kind. So, that last sentence wasn’t very nice: “get rid of this garbage, imbecile”. NEVER, EVER SAY THAT. Even when you’re not critiquing, just avoid calling people imbeciles. It is good to include negatives in your critique (almost necessary), but use soft words in them, yes?

There, now that that’s over, let’s get to why it’s beneficial to you.
Actually, let’s have another bullet list, eh? 

-Your eyes will be opened to the mistakes in your own writing. It’s easy to notice when someone else is using too many passive verbs in their writing. If you point it out enough, then you’ll start to see it in your own writing as well. It’s a chance for you to learn what mistakes there are and how to fix them. Beneficial, yes?

-You will make a connection. The publishing industry is a lot about who you know. So, isn’t doing a favor to someone a way of “getting in” with them? Helping them prepare their draft for publication might mean they’ll be willing to help you as well. The world of writing is about helping each other along. Few can make it alone. Critiquing is an easy way to make those connections.

-It’s fun! You get to read what might become a popular novel before it’s even published. You are given the privilege to see into someone’s dream before it’s even finished. They’re opening themselves up to you and you get to respond. Human interaction at its finest.

I love to critique. It’s something I’ve enjoyed ever since I started (although I must say, my first critiques were pretty… unhelpful. Yeah, let’s go with that word…) and I continue to enjoy it to this day.

What about you? Do you enjoy giving critiques? Why or why not? Leave a comment and share!

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