Submitted by eddycurrents on Fri, 08/08/2003 - 12:38am

Chris' Tips: How to Be Critiqued

(1) Your writing is not as good as you think it is. Or, perhaps, it may be better than you think it is. You can't tell -- your opinion is hopelessly biased. If you are writing to be read, you absolutely need someone to critique it before releasing it to the masses.

(2) The first critique must always come from you. Let your writing cool a while, then don your editor's hat. Be ruthless. Only when your writing sounds perfect to you, where one word more or one word less would ruin it entirely, should you release it to someone else. Or, more likely, it is ready when you have edited it so many times you are sick of it and need to move on with your life.

(3) Find someone(s) whose opinion you value, and make sure they know you want them to be honest. It's easier for them to read your work if they already like your genre, but they should be objective enough so that doesn't really matter.

(4) The more honest the critique, the better. And remember, the truth hurts. In fact, the pain tends to be proportionate to the degree of truth. Reassure your critiquer that this won't affect your relationship with them. They probably won't believe you. For this reason, close friends and significant others generally give a poor critique.

(5) People are critiquing your *work*, not you. Don't take it personally. In fact, don't even take most of it seriously (see below).

(6) People willing to take the time to read something you wrote, and tell you what they thought of it, are doing you a huge favor. Shut up and listen.

(7) A person's critique is only his or her opinion. Take it, or leave it, it's up to you. It's your story.

(8) Most of what any critiquer says: (a) will not work in your story; (b) will not fit in with your style; or (c) will change your story in ways you don't want. In short, most of any critique is crap.

(9) However, not all of any critique is crap. In order to tell crap from non-crap, you have to think about it. Sometimes you may even have to try it out, see how it sounds. Also, if you hear the same crap from more than one person, it may not be crap, after all.

(10) This is a critique, not a debate. Never, never, never, argue with your critiquers. Don't even offer an explanation for something, unless they ask for one, or are genuinely interested (they probably aren't). Just nod, smile, and say "Thanks". You can agree with them on a few things, to make them feel better. Then do whatever you want. Remember, they just did you a huge favor, but it's still your story.

What Do You Ask For, in a Critique?

(1) The two most important things you need to know, in any critique, are (a) was there any point where you felt like stopping? (b) was there any part you had to read twice?

(2) Anyone can provide these two things. They don't have to be Language Experts, or even terribly Language Proficient.

(3) Then you can ask if they had any other input or suggestions for improvement. Most people are happy to provide these without asking. Most of this will be crap (see above).

(4) If there are any grammatical or spelling errors, people will gleefully point them out to you. There should not be any. Just as a cheap frame ruins a painting, a flaw in the basic building blocks of your story distracts people from your message. Then they wonder if you can handle the rest of it. To switch analogies: Would you buy a house with a crumbling foundation? Would you even bother looking inside the house?

(5) The thing you are most dying to ask of people is, "Did you like it?". Don't. First, it should be obvious from their critique. Second, they won't give you a straight answer, especially if they didn't like it. Third, it's not important anyway, unless you are writing only to please that person, or you are insecure about your writing.

(6) If the latter, you should pick a different hobby, because an honest critique will leave you raw and bleeding. Still, that is better than an editor's rejection, which will fill you with self doubt and misery for days. Honest critiques reduce the rejections and self doubt. In theory.