Wednesday, April 3, 2013

C IS FOR CRITIQUES


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

I belong to two critique groups, but the first critique group I went to was not for me. I was the only member who writes for young readers. The other members treated me as though I needed encouragement to keep writing until I was good enough to write for adults. I never went back. It takes a special skill to write for children, and I looked for groups who had that special skill.
Kathy's local critique group.

In all my years of writing, I have gotten good critiques and bad ones, tough ones and not-so-tough ones.

A good critique is one where the criticism is helpful. And some of the toughest have been the best ones. They tell me what doesn’t work & why. They give me something to fix.

At a workshop’s group critique, I was advised to get rid of the first chapter and include the necessary information from that chapter in small flashback snippets throughout the subsequent chapters. But, I was told, “don’t lose that wonderful metaphor about the river.” Without those words, I likely would have deleted that part.

I have learned how to give a critique from having received them. I always learn, but sometimes what I learned was how NOT to give a critique.


At one conference I attended (where I had to pay extra to get a critique), my first chapter I’d submitted was from a historical fiction novel written in Appalachian dialect. My reviewer began the critique with the words, “I’m not a fan of historical fiction and I hate dialect.” Bad critique.

Another reviewer made me feel like a fifth grader in a classroom. She didn’t have to like my writing, but she still could have treated me like an adult. I’m not a beginner. I work hard. I used to teach creative writing, and I taught my young students with more respect than that reviewer showed me. I left that critique feeling disrespected and unable to see whatever good suggestions may have been included in her critique.

So here is what I learned: If you’re looking for a critique group, find one that meets your needs. If you critique someone’s work, try to give criticisms that are constructive, treat fellow writers as you would like to be treated, and remind them that your opinions are only opinions. And when you especially like something, be sure to mention that, too.

Happy writing and may all your critiques be good ones.

14 comments:

  1. Excellent post. It's so key to listen to the positive comments as well as the comments about what needs improvement. Critiquing is a skill that needs to be developed.

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    1. Thanks, Ann. It's always good to hear from you.

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  2. Ain't that the truth, Kathy? Learning to give critiques only happens after you've taken a whole load of them (and gotten past the first few tearful ones.) Great post!

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    1. Thanks, dear friend. I find it so helpful when giving a critique to remember how it felt to be on the receiving end. We all work hard at our craft, & need to be treated with the respect we deserve.

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  3. Good crit partners are worth their weight in gold! Nice to *meet* you through the A to Z.

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    1. Nice to meet you, too, Nicole. Hope you're enjoying the A to Z.

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  4. Read your post and couldn't stop nodding and saying 'Yep, been there. Absolutely. Yes sir.' Loved it.

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  5. It seems like a lot of people these days think critiquing is only about pointing out what you didn't like, and not what you did like. It's like they're trying to prove what attentive, up-to-date, brutally honest readers and writers they are by only focusing on what they think needs to change. A good critique is honest yet friendly, and makes you feel like the critiquer enjoyed reading it for more than just critiquing purposes.

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    1. You put it well, Carrie-Anne. You sound like a good critiquer to have. I hope the ones you critique for fully appreciate you.

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  6. very interesting and good to know. I secretly want to be a children's book author....self published one little thing, but just don't know really what to do. Maybe one day. Thanks for the tips.

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    1. What to do is get started. Read lots of good children's books to get a feel for them. Then write. Try a workshop to get some feedback on what you've written. Good luck. The key is to do it.

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  7. As the president of a writers club in California, I can assure everyone that you speak the 100% truth. I personally start each of our critique groups and stay with them until they feel comfortable carrying on constructive critiques on their own. I love this blog! Great job explaining what makes a good (and bad... "I just don't like your protagonist") critique.

    See you here tomorrow for "D" :)

    Dana
    Waiter, drink please!




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    1. Thanks, Dana. It's great that you make sure they get off to a good start. Keep up the good work. Some people don't know how to critique properly & only get the receiving end of the bad kind.

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