© 1996-2008, Vicki Hinze
Giving or receiving a critique is supposed to be helpful to the author of a work. A positive experience that encourages growth and gives the author an objective (if subjective) opinion on the work.
To truly be effective and an absolute valuable asset, a writer needs to know what is right as well as what needs work. Both are equally significant.
All too often writers who believe they want a critique want praise. We all want our work to be well received, but the purpose of a critique is to get input on taking steps to make the work even better and stronger to make it more well received.
So here are a few guidelines to assist in achieving that goal:
A critique given or received is based on the author and critiquer developing and maintaining a bond of trust. Mutual respect and clear communication are imperative.
Offer constructive criticism on any changes you, the critiquer, recommend. Do not issue edicts and/or destructive, cutting remarks. If a writing element or aspect works well and emotionally grabs you, the critiquer, note it. And note why you think it works well. Positive feedback is crucial. If the element/aspect worked once and the rationale can be identified, then that aspect can be again implemented.
Time spent on your critique could have been spent on your critiquer’s own work. Even if you disagree with every word the critiquer says, with every suggestion made, recognize the critique for what it is – a gift.
IT’S NOT PERSONAL
Remember that remarks made by a critiquer are only that critiquer’s subjective opinion and the comments pertain to the work, not to you, the author of the work. Weigh comments and suggestions received from that perspective.
Realize that only you hold the vision of your writing. When you receive a critique on a partial of the writing, weigh the value of the comments and/or suggestions in context of your vision of the entire work.
Trust your instincts. Before altering writing based on a critiquer’s comments, read and digest the critique. Take time to absorb, then again read the critique. If the revisions then seem valid, do them. If they strengthen the work, keep them. If not, try a fresh approach that accomplishes the desired goal.
When given criticism, resist the urge to defend or explain. Your critiquer notes areas he/she feels require your attention. What attention you elect to give those areas is up to you. Writing and critiquing are subjective. Akin to a review, a critique is just one person’s opinion. Weigh the value of that opinion, then act. Trust. But squelch the desire to defend.
Be specific about what you hope to gain from the critique. The more detail you impart, the more this enables the critiquer to give you what you need and seek.
Be gracious. A critiquer’s gift to you is his or her personal time and sharing knowledge and experience. Whether or not you, the author, agree with the critiquer’s findings in your work, you should not diminish the value of this gift.
What is right, or what works in the writing, is as equally important as what is wrong. Don’t neglect to note what works as well as what doesn’t.
Respect the work. This is NOT your story and you, the critiquer, shouldn’t attempt to overhaul the work as if it were your own.
Do consider the stage of the work. If a draft, then focus your comments on content. If a “final” ready for submission, then do a more in-depth analysis of the work. Always give the author, as best you’re able, what the author requests.
Do critique the work from the perspective of requirements and criteria of the work’s targeted market and/or genre. Using mainstream criteria greatly diminishes the value of the critique.
An excellent critique is worthless–if the author can’t understand what you mean. Strive to be clear and concise–easy to understand. Offer examples that drive home your point.
Before you release a critique, ask yourself: “How would I feel if I received this?” Be honest, be fair, but be sensitive to the author who has invested his or her time, energy, and emotion into this work, just as you have invested in your writing. Offer solutions to challenges with specific statements, not nebulous generalities that are a challenge. Constructive criticism and validation of the positive aspects is your goal.
Following these guides will diminish many of the challenges that occur in critiques on both giving and getting them. I do hope you find them helpful.
Remember, regardless of which end you’re on in the critique, both ends have the same goal: to create the best possible work.