Yesterday we talked about what to look for in a group. Today, let’s focus on what a *Good* critique is like.
Writing Tip for Today: How can a writer know the crits received are good, as in helpful and constructive?
- The critique is specific. Remember your seventh grade book report? The teacher wouldn’t tolerate a general, “I liked it a lot.” It isn’t helpful to give a vague analysis, such as “I didn’t like it,” or “It was fine.” Be specific. And if you receive a vague crit, ask questions–but only after all crits are in. Don’t interrupt. You might want to jot down your questions so you don’t forget to ask.
- The critique smacks of encouragement. If someone gives specific advice but laces the crit with, “I don’t know why you bother,” or “This is terrible!” you may be peeling your ego off the basement floor. In the facilitated groups I run, I always want the writer to leave a session champing at the bit, eager to get home and work on the manuscript. Writing is a difficult sport, and we all need support and encouragement in order to make our writing shine.
- The critique is about you and your work, not the critiquer’s prowess with the English language. Some writers feel threatened and must show off their skills. If you receive a crit that points out flaws but doesn’t offer any remedy, the crit may be more about the critiquer than the critiqued.
- The critique is delivered without malice. Similar to show-offs, some writers make everything a competition. “I can critique better than you,” is not only not helpful, it erodes the trust level of the group. We’re all different and we’re at different stages of the writing journey. A good crit respects this.
- A good critique doesn’t sacrifice the big picture while pointing out the nits. In my groups, I ask members to mark “nits,” small things such as grammar, spelling or “ly” words on the copy and not waste the group’s time pointing them out. If you have 5-6 members, it will take far too long to line edit every piece. Organize your comments by referring first to “big picture” elements such as theme, plot character or scene writing, then as time permits, less pressing issues.
I’m sure there are more signs of a good critique, as well as other details. Should members of a crit group be friends outside the group? Is it necessary to meet once a week or does once a month suffice? Where do you stand on the issue of reading aloud vs. distributing copies in advance? Feel free to comment and bring these things up.