The Grand Poobah,
Heather Burnell, has asked me to write a post about how to critique since we now have a sparkling, fancy Sub It Club Critique Partner Matchup. And of course I’ve thought of so many things to say about critiquing it will take seven parts.
First, a little bit about my critiquing past to convince you that I know what the heck I’m talking about. I’ve been a member of several different critique groups since 2008, some specific to the YA genre and several all-genre situations. Currently, I moderate a monthly YA critique bunch and attend a weekly all-genre critique group that has been around for decades. I’ve done a Benefits of Being Critiqued talk for SCBWI, run critique roundtables at quite a few SCBWI conferences and with Jenn Bailey, designed and facilitated a Critique Speed Dating workshop for SCBWI. I have been critiqued by award-winning authors, editors and agents.
I am an expert.
The first thing to learn is how to deliver and accept a critique well. Literary criticism doesn’t do anybody any good if emotion gets in the way of hearing the information. Therefor…
HOW TO DELIVER A CRITIQUE SO THE WRITER CAN DIGEST YOUR SUGGESTIONS:
- Use the sandwich method: First, find something praiseworthy–a great opening sentence, excellent use of active verbs, even a fun character name. Then gently, go over the places where the manuscript has room for improvement. And always end your commentary with something the writer has done well.
- For crying out loud, don’t tell the writer that the manuscript is a mess, even if it is. Every story starts out as a mess. Even yours!
- Don’t tell a writer a bunch of baloney about how great his/her work is if it isn’t. It’s lazy and cowardly, and you aren’t helping anybody. The writer will never improve, she/he will clutter up agent/editor boxes with sub-par work and you will begin to resent spending time on a writer who isn’t progressing.
- Remember, your critique is a series of suggestions. If the writer disagrees with your take on his/her work, you’ve done your job. Let it go.
HOW TO RECEIVE A CRITIQUE CONSTRUCTIVELY AND GRACIOUSLY
- Close. Your mouth. Do not argue. You are listening to one person’s opinion, the quality of which is dependent on the knowledge, experience and insight of the critiquer.
- Keep. Quiet. Don’t “explain” things. You will not be sitting at the agent’s/editor’s elbow while he/she reads your work, your manuscript must stand on its own.
- Don’t take things personally. This is an opinion about this one piece of writing, not whether you have a right to exist as a human being.
- Take notes, add your own thoughts as you hear/read the critique. Then let some time pass before you consider the worth of each point.
- If you hear the same criticism from several sources, this is one you really need to look at. If John Green gives you a critique, also something you take seriously, BUT John Green could be wrong. And a newbie writer might be quite insightful.
- Remember, you asked for this. The critiquer spent valuable time reading and thinking about your manuscript. THANK HER.
Next time: Moving Things Along