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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Some thoughts on critiquing

Many years ago, I signed up for a fiction writers class. In this class, I found not only a gifted professor but a writing group which met regularly for at least a couple of years and now still meets sporadically. There are some really talented writers in there. None of us were published then and I think almost everyone has sold at least one thing now.

Which brings me to my next point, this group is no longer just a bunch of critique partners, they are my friends. One of them is getting married on New Year's Eve and I think most of us are going. Our submissions to the group have dropped dramatically. Some of this is a function of life but I wonder if some of it has to do with the discomfort of critiquing something someone close to you has written? I know I am never harsh on a critique with anyone but now I worry if I will offend a friend. So I was strangely relieved when I got this as a comment on my last critique.

"You may not want to read it – not as jazzed about this one as much as the rest of your stuff."

Don't get me wrong, I would always rather blow people away with fantastic stories but I also know the likelihood of that happening every time is not possible. She and another critique partner pointed out some pretty big holes. Of course, there was also the guy who said it was the best thing I'd ever written and then tried to make it go into a world ending scenario with a new Adam and Eve which lost me a little. It wasn't that I didn't like what he said but he didn't give me any concrete ways to make the story better which in the end is what you want when someone reads your stuff. I don't know if anyone else has experienced this but I wonder how the friend phenomena extends to book reviews? I don't think I could give any of them a bad book review even if I hated it (none of them have published a book yet so I can say that without fear at this point). Sure, before it is out I can critique like crazy because I want it to be the best it can be, but what about after?


  1. Reviewing is tough, it isn't really to advise the author anymore like a critique is supposed to, but to use your cache to either convince others to read, or to steer them clear. I try to keep that in mind when doing reviews. I used to say I wouldn't do them for people I know, but I've softened my stance on that some. I'd say do what your conscious dictates - unless you are reviewing something of mine, in which case I just want your praise, regardless of how you really feel.

    As for your critique group, well, here's to the expanded story with the Adam and Eve subplot.

  2. Rusty is hilarious! And he's a damn good critique partner.
    I want to know what works and what doesn't. (I'm also grateful when typos and overused words are pointed out.) Suggestions are helpful, although I understand sometimes we don't always know what would make it better.
    And a critique partner with a sense of humor is a big plus - someone like Rusty!

  3. I think I'm to ornery to let critiquing bother me; although, it seems to also make people reluctant to critique my work. Or maybe that has nothing to do with anything; all I know, is I never get feedback from anyone >:(

  4. I'm really thin-skinned when it comes to critiquing, but I also try to keep it in perspective... which is why I rarely ask people to critique my stuff. (People also don't comment as often as I'd like. I can take comments better than critiques.)

    Here's what I think: If you're catching my spelling errors (as Grumpy often does), okay. If you think there's a big problem and want to ask me about that, okay.

    But don't say "This scene doesn't work for me" because I don't particularly care about that unless you've got a REALLY GOOD REASON for it, because what I hear when people say that is "That's not how I would've written it," which is kind of the point for me: I write how I want, you write how you want.

    It helps that I do it for fun, so I can do whatever the heck I want and not really worry about commercial success.

    I do enjoy the occasional harsh word if (a) it's really funny, like the people who call me an idiot on "The Best Of Everything" blog, or (b) I know it's not intended to be harsh, the way Michael Offutt will critique people. He tries to be all tough but you know it's just a big act. I have it on good authority that he is part teddy bear, the result of a weird mixup with a teleportation device and an FAO Schwartz temp job when he was 16.