Success only flourishes in perseverance -- ceaseless, restless perseverance.
--Baron Manfred Von Richtofen

Friday, June 17, 2011

Critiques Part II: It is Better to Give Than to Receive

When it comes to critiquing is is truly better to give than to receive. Receiving critiques is important, but generally, while you may get advice that can carry into your other work, getting a critique will only help you with that story.

Giving a critique, on the other hand, opens your eyes to what works and doesn't work in a story like nothing else can. Critiquing forces you to define what engages you in a story and what throws you out. What makes the writing invisible and what makes it intrude.

One of the best things I ever did for my own writing was to become an editor for Mindflights. I have learned so much about what it takes to write well just from reading and judging submissions. (If you ever get a chance to do something like that, take it!)

So, a few rules for giving good, useful critiques:

#1: Be honest! This is the first and foremost rule in my mind. A critique is useless if you aren't truthful.

#2: Be kind. Yes, you can be both honest and kind. Remember the feelings of the person receiving the critique. You have to state your honest opinion, but you can do it in a tactful way. (You can be blunt, but don't be rude.)

#3: Remember that it is just your opinion. The other person does not have to take all of your suggestions and that's okay. I usually prefer not to know if they've taken my suggestions. (Unless I've asked for a rewrite on a submission. Then they'd better take my suggestions!)

I should probably state for the record that I don't belong to a critique group. I have not found them effective for me. Luckily, I have some trusted writer friends who are willing to give me feedback. Maybe face to face critique groups have different rules to consider. I don't know.

What has been your experience with giving critiques?


Mohamed Mughal said...

I think your advice might be useful towards both critiques AND life in general: be honest, be kind, remember thats it's just your opinion. Hmmmmm.....

Nice post!

Angie said...

That's very true, Mohamed. I hadn't thought about that, but you're right. Great rules for life in general.

Kristen Knight said...

Angie, your comments about learning to be a better writer through critiques is SOOO true and something not immediately intuitive to a new writer. AND one area that offering feedback on other people's stories teaches is around the ever-illusive subject of story structure. GREAT way to learn what does and doesn't work. Great post, my friend.

Angie said...

Thanks, Kristen. You're right about structure. I think it's one of the best ways to learn that. Thanks for stopping by.

Brenda Sills said...

Your critique advice is Fantastic! Thank you so much for helping us out! I would like to yak with you sometime about how you get feedback from your trusted writer friends - do they read your finished book all at once? In increments? I lOVE the gals in my critique group, - I'm just really wondering if there's a more effective way to do things. I'm disillusioned about the nature of critiquing in regular crit groups and I would like to know how you do it with your trusted friends. - How do you do it differently than in a crit group? Thanks! You are awesome! :D

Brenda Sills said...

TAG! YOU'RE IT! I wanted to let you know that I tagged you on my blog - come on over and see what it's all about!

Angie said...

Thanks, Brenda. I'll go check out the tag. Shoot me an email. I'd be happy to talk about critiquing with you. It's angloft at gmail dot com.

Melanie Goldmund said...

When I was heavily involved in Star Wars fanfiction, I did a lot of beta reading (which is giving critiques) and one of the "rules" that I learned was the Oreo Cookie method, which meant sandwiching your critique in between praise. First, you say something nice, then you give your critique and point out all the stuff that needs improvement, then you say some more nice stuff. I will admit that sometimes my sandwiches had a very thick filling and probably weren't half as tasty as Double Stuff Oreos.

But I agree with you, Angie, you learn so much by critiquing others! My own writing improved by leaps and bounds during my Star Wars years.

I'm so glad to hear that there's somebody else out there who doesn't have a critique group. I've been hearing so much about them lately, how helpful they are, that I was starting to foam at the mouth with sheer jealousy. It seems they aren't as essential as I was led to believe ... now if I can just find some trusted writer friends who would be willing to give me feedback for free. But first, gotta get my story written so there's something there to critique! Back to work, then. :-)

Angie said...

I like the cookie rule, Melanie. Great idea. It does help to have the stuff you like in there too. Thanks for stopping by!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Love the advice, and Melanie's cookie rule - I may have to use that one in my co-op writing class next year.

I don't have a critique group right now either. In fact, it's been years, and the last time I tried one outside of a class setting, I got burned. There were no sweet sides to that particular critique group.

However, I agree strongly that kindness is the main rule. Pointing out what the best, most intriquing parts of someone's work opens that person's ears to hear the "hey, this part could be better" critique.

Angie said...

Thanks, Tyrean. I really should have added Say Something Nice as one of the rules, huh?