Ever since finishing my series of blogs on networking, I’ve been wanting to tackle the topic of critiquing. Right off the top, I’ll mention that critiquing is a subject that can create disagreement, so even though I’ll be using information and/or quotes from others on the subject, this will be a somewhat subjective discussion.
I like critiquing. I especially like critiquing for beginning writers—I usually railed against having to critique the “newbies” each semester at school, but once I started, and especially once I was sitting across the table from them, I really got into it. I like being critiqued—for the most part. I like being critiqued by people who know how to do it properly and who have similar if not more advanced writing skills to mine.
The problem I have with being critiqued is two-fold:
1. I get blocked in my writing because I’m concerned about what my critiquers are going to say about my technique, style, word choice (oh, and characters and story) because I critique those things in others’ writing. (I’ve expounded upon this point at length recently in this blog.)
2. Once I receive a critique, I want to go back and fix all the “problems” my critique partners pointed out before moving forward with my writing. (Which is why it took me nearly three years to write Stand-In-Groom.)
What I’ve had to learn to do—and what I advise my mentees to do—is to read the critique, internalize the comments, learn from them, but keep moving forward. Did the critique point out the over use of certain words or phrases? Write them on a sticky note and post it on the side of the computer monitor so that as you continue the forward progress of your story/novel, that reminder is there—and it’s still there after you finish and go back to start your revisions.
After writing three versions of the first ten chapters of Stand-In Groom, my thesis novel, in the course of a year (two of them before starting at Seton Hill), I had to force myself to move forward with the story. This was very difficult, as I had a couple of major plot changes occur when writing the middle of the manuscript. I wanted to go back and change the first half of the novel, but I had to have a complete manuscript by the end of my second semester of school. So I started a “Changes To Be Made” file. As I reformed and restructured my plot, I would make notes to myself in this file of what I would need to change in the beginning to set up the new plot/characterization. I read my critiques as I received them, but just set them aside and plowed on through, just to get to the end.
Then, when revision time came, I pulled out my notes and all of the critiques I’d received. Before beginning on the rewriting, I just read through all of them and made a new set of notes, compiling all of my changes and the consensus of comments from the critiques (weighing my Faculty Mentor’s comments most heavily, of course).
Being a good critique partner is a talent, but can be learned as a skill if worked at hard enough. So, let’s explore together what it takes to learn the skill of both giving and receiving critiques. I’d love for you to post your comments, questions, and concerns about your critique experiences.
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