Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Secret Behind Critiques

Critiques are part of a writer’s life. Through this process our writing projects become tighter, stronger, and more sellable. Through this process we learn how to become better writers.

If you are a student, not to worry, your instructor will review your work and offer advice on improvements. If you are a published writer, you may hire editors to perform those duties. But for the rest of us interested in honing our writing skills, finding a critique group or another writer willing to critique our work is vital.

Accepting criticism is never easy, but finding a practiced critique partner will ease the process. Keep looking until you find someone able to offer constructive criticism buffered by positive feedback and encouragement.

Once you’ve found a critique partner you’ll need to learn two things in order for your relationship to flourish:
1. How to gratefully and gracefully accept criticism.
2. How to critique another’s writing.

These steps take personal commitment and effort, but once mastered, you’ll discover the remarkable secret behind critiquing: whether you are giving or receiving a critique, you strengthen your writing skills.

The importance of critiques has been on my mind lately because I’m currently involved in a rewrite with a professional who is offering critiques of my work on a regular basis, and several critique projects with fellow writers.

I’m actually enjoying the rewrite. I’m lucky to be working with a professional I admire and respect, and have found his suggestions both insightful and enlightening. I know incorporating his ideas strengthens my storyline and I find myself eager to receive each new comment (critique) even though it means another rewrite.

In January I took on the role of chairperson for a screenwriter’s group in Coeur d’Alene. I was surprised by the insightful and valuable critique that followed our first “read” in February. How exciting to find a powerful writing tool right in my own Idaho backyard. I’m anxious to hear their input on the screenplay I’ve been working on for a couple of years.

I’ve also been busy working on critiques for others. I recently finished the critique of a fairly lengthy project. I completed comments on the project, even suggesting ways to tie up some loose ends in the final chapter which strangely had not been completed. I spent several hours working on my comments.

I was thanked for my work and told it was both insightful and helpful. But later, when this project was presented to the critique group we both belong to, not one of my corrections or suggestions had been addressed. The project even contained misspelled and missing words I had pointed out.

I’m unsure whether the writer was too busy to make the corrections, didn’t find my suggestions useful, or was just plain unwilling to take constructive criticism.

Although not a notable success, I took the time to realize the critique had not been a complete waste of my time because I learned a few things from the time I spent reviewing the project. And, most gratifying to me, many of the comments during the group critique were similar to those in my original critique, giving me confidence in my critiquing ability.

Then, just a couple of days ago, an instructor asked me to critique a screenplay written by a group of students. On first glance the story is strong, but I do see room for improvement in format, story structure and dialogue. One thing I noticed right away, the students used a lot of clichés. I think I’m going to enjoy this one.

On Wednesday's blog, I'm going to share the 4 steps to a successful critique. In the meantime, if you are searching for a place to give and receive feedback on your work, be sure to consider online critique groups or critique opportunities. Just do an Internet search for "critiques for writers" and check them out.

One last thing! Don’t be afraid to share your expertise. If someone asks you to critique their writing, take it as a compliment and share your knowledge and advice. Chances are you’ll strengthen your own writing skills in the process.

Have you experienced any critique nightmares?


Jennifer Rova said...

I love this blog. It has concrete tips. Waiting to learn more.

Jennifer Rova said...

Jesse----many congratulations on the birth of your baby. Children are precious forever. I am thinking writing may take a back burner position for awhile.

Nancy Owens Barnes said...

Mary Jane, thanks for your valuable reminder about critiquing. It is so important for writers to connect with someone who can give constructive and honest feedback on their work.