The Critique: An Important Tool

The Critique: one of the most important tools in a writer’s toolbox, but like any tool it only works if you know how to use it. And let me be clear, a critique is not something you just get or give; it’s something you USE to make your writing better.

As a writer you will ask someone (hopefully more than one someone) to critique your work and in return you will give critiques.  Both the giving and the getting are opportunities for learning that should not be wasted.  This will be a two part post, the first will cover the getting of Critiques the second will cover the giving.

Getting

The getting of critiques is the obvious learning opportunity; it’s why you asked someone to look at your work in the first place. Tell me what’s good, tell me what’s bad so I can fix it. A simple process, yes?  Not always.  People have the tendency, myself included, to hear only the good, which is important. But to become a better writer you have to be open to what is not working in your manuscript. Here are a couple of tips that can help you stay open to the criticism and get the most out of your critique.

1) If you are meeting in person and your story is short, have someone else read it to you before any discussion of critiques. Many times, hearing your story read aloud by someone else points out major flaws.

2) When a critique is being given and the comments start flying, don’t talk.  I repeat: SHUT YOUR MOUTH and listen. It’s hard, I know.  When someone comments negatively about something, you want to explain why you wrote it that way.  But when you do, all you’re doing is shutting that person out.  You‘re thinking in your head, “They read it the wrong way!” You then devise something to say and meanwhile, you have just missed the crux of the critique. Sit back, listen, and see it from your critique partner’s point of view.  Plus, when you send your story out to a publisher you will not be around to explain it. Unless you’re stalking them; and if that’s the case then you’re creepy, so please get off my web site.

3) Take notes. Jot down everything even if you think what your critique partners are saying is crap. Emotions can run high when people tear into your work. Let’s be honest: this manuscript is your baby so you may ignore things you don’t want to hear.  But you’ll be amazed later, when what seemed like a dumb comment in the moment doesn’t seem so dumb after you have had a chance to calm down.

4) Say thank you. People will be more willing to re-read your work after you have revised it if you’re nice. A simple thank you can go a long way. That and a bag of Skittles.

5) Stay true to yourself.  You are going to hear a lot of different opinions, some contradicting each other. Don’t try to change your story based on every comment you hear.  I tend to hold to the rule that if I hear the same comment more than once, then there is something that isn’t working and should be revised.  But ultimately you know your story; you know how it should go. Don’t let the noise get in the way of the heart of your story.

Stay tuned for part two! Oh, and if you have any tips that help you during the critique process please feel free to comment!

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6 comments on “The Critique: An Important Tool
  1. Carol says:

    This is great! I followed your link from SCBWI… I am just getting back on board into writing after several years of being away… These are good pointers! Especially the part of having someone else read it…now to figure out who to have do that… I don’t know anyone else in my area that writes and right now I’m not confident enough to share with family or friends… I don’t know.. I’d rather share with a writer friend. I will stay tuned!!

    • Paul Czajak says:

      I’m glad you liked it! You are already starting in the right spot, the SCBWI boards are a great resource. Look in the critique exchange, people are always looking to swap manuscripts.

  2. Critiques are SO important. I always get a bit excited when I recieve one, b/c even tho there might be stuff in there I don’t want to hear, in the end it’s going to help make my ms stronger. And that is a good thing! No pain, no gain, baby! =)

  3. Mirka Breen says:

    When I began to write for publication, I didn’t realize how important feedback that does *not* come from those who don’t ever want to hurt our feelings (i.e. friends and relations) can be, how valuable and how necessary.
    I got that one pretty quickly. But the real surprise was to discover how helpful it was to critique others.
    A good critique partner (or group) is golden.

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