Just call me the critique queen … well, maybe one day

I recently talked about having to get out from my keyboard and get involved in writing critiques and writing events. It’s all pretty scary but I managed it – I found some people through YA Lit Chat to look at my first 5 pages and query and someone on Facebook helped me with my first three chapters. I have since revised everything for my final submissions before I put this one away in the drawer and focus on my WIP.

However scary all that was, it was worse when it came to me critiquing other people’s work. As part of the first five pages critique group, I dipped my toe in the water and gave my thoughts in return for people helping me with mine. And then I responded to a critique call and read someone’s full manuscript. A complete stranger who took a chanced on my opinion. Phew. I was terrified I would either be too nice or too nasty or my comments wouldn’t come across as constructive and I felt real fear before I hit send on the email I had drafted with my feedback on.

Thankfully, the writer responded well to ym feedback and it seems to match other’s they had received. I felt so relieved that I hadn’t offended them or worse made them feel despondent. I wanted to motivate. I wanted to show the great points and the areas that could be improved to make it even better. I think that’s what critiquing is all about. And it’s a tough skill to cultivate.

I don’t think I’ll lose my fear of critiquing whether I’m the receiver or the giver for quite a while yet but I know that both sides will ultimately help me write and revise my own work. So I’ll keep going and know that each time I do it, I’m living my mantra of being fearless and hopefully becoming a better writer with each step.

 Have you ever been critiqued or helped someone with their work? Any tips to getting through it painlessly?

Victoria

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36 thoughts on “Just call me the critique queen … well, maybe one day

  1. Good for you. Critiquing isn’t easy. I was a noob for a while. I learned by reading how others did it and found that honesty is always best. And balancing what I like and what I though can use work. It is, after all, just my opinion. I think of it as giving the writer options. What he/she does with it is up to him/her.

  2. For someone who finds it tough to take criticism, I’ve asked a good friend to go through my work. Thankfully, this friend has known me pretty much my whole life and knows that I didn’t do well in my exams when I was at school. I hope to exceed all of the negatives and come out as a more positive person; a persona that I’m currently possessing after finishing Book 1.

  3. Writer friends ask me to give advice (and I’m not even a writer!) I find it terribly tricky because, as you say, you don’t know how they’re going to take it.

  4. I HATED my required English class of college. We had to write 4 essays (different types), and do peer reviews. It SUCKED. Mostly because peer reviews tended to screw me over when it was time for the lecturer to grade. It felt like a total waste.
    I had better experiences in Toastmasters. Every speech is evaluated. I did lots of speeches, and a few evaluations, and they weren’t too bad. It goes a lot better when you’re able to keep your critique positive. Instead of saying, “This sentence sucks,” you can say, “Consider rewording?” And you may follow it up with a little “I wasn’t sure if you meant abc or xyz when I read this.”
    I’ve learned the importance of I-statements and the sandwich-method.
    Also, there are very handy critique tools. They are very helpful in delivering your message in a way that is easy to receive/accept, and help you to cover all bases. For example, in Toastmasters (Speech club) it was GLOVE. G-gestures, L-language, O-organization, V-voice, E-enthusiasm.

  5. Victoria I’m sooo proud of you! Critiquing is a skill you learn with practice. I’ve been doing it for a few years and actually now have people who want to pay for my critique! Nothing makes me happier than to help someone with their work. And likewise I really appreciate it when people take the time to critique mine. I’m in two face-to-face critique groups and they’ve made a huge difference in my writing!

  6. I took a creative writing workshop where we had to critique everyone’s stories and it was a bit hard. You definitely get accustomed to giving constructive advice, keep at it! At the end of the day, you are trying to help, not hurt.

  7. Oh my goodness, I hate critiquing someone else’s work as well as being critiqued, haha! When I was in college we had to do a lot of peer reviews and critiquing each other’s work which was no fun at all. But it was a helpful! I just didn’t like the process, haha!

  8. It sounds like it’s a growing experience for both sides. Learning to offer good constructive critiscims, and learning to not only hear critiques about your own work, but to actually make the changes suggested. Then, to have the heart to be “redlined” again, and again…usually writing requires many revisions, right? Going outside of your comfort zone allows you to grow.

    Sandi
    http://www.ahhsome.wordpress.com
    Lake Forest, CA

  9. Good for you, Vix. Once you build up trust with one or two reviewers, you’ll find it easier.

    Also, ask what they want you to focus on when you’re the reviewer ~ plot, action, themes, grammar, etc.

  10. I hear you Vix, too nice or too “mean”, that is a big problem a lot of times. On the one hand you want to be honest and constructive. The whole point is to tell someone how they can improve. On the other hand you don’t want someone’s feeling to be hurt, nor do you want them to feel you are attacking them. But if you are too sweet about it, the honest opinion can get lost and the point of the critique is gone. Here’s what I find, whenever trying to give your opinion. First the person is expecting you to tell them what’s wrong in your viewpoint, they welcome it, it’s all for them to make it a better piece of work. Second, you are naturally a kind person, the fact that you are so concerned about the other person’s feelings is testament to that. Third, just be honest, but don’t make it personal, while they may have personal attachments (it is only natural I think) if you phrase it in a way that focuses on the specifics and your suggestions (give reasons) then it becomes solely about the work. Mostly it’s the way that you’re reading it, so that impression is very important to improvement. Does that make sense? I’m only going off of experience. Maybe employ the sandwich method, one good thing, one bad thing, and finish with one good thing. That takes the sting off of bad news.

  11. It’s very nice that you are concerned for the other writer’s feelings when you offer your comments. Many people give feedback as if they are out for revenge or something.

    I always remind the writer that mine is one person’s opinion and I’m not offended if they don’t take my suggestions.
    I like D’s comment above: start by saying what you liked about the piece and then what could use more work.

  12. You are going to do great! I think putting yourself out there is the biggest step. I started some stories on my private blog, but still don’t have the guts to come out with them. :-/

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