There is an art to critiquing writing. I had another short story critiqued last night. I listened to the critique closely as I had written on a controversial topic. The complements are nice. They definitely stroke my ego but don’t really help me be a better writer.
With each workshop, we are required to read the story and as we read it we edit it (think copy editing where you are looking for grammar mistakes, tone, punctuation, and so on). In addition to the technical aspect of the writing we are also supposed to write about the content – what works, what doesn’t work, what we like and don’t like. I take this part very seriously. I edit like I would for my daughters or a client.
We then have to write a letter to the author summing up what we edited. With each class period we hand these over to the author. I’ve done mine each time. I’ve read mine as well. Sometimes as I’m reading the critiques I wonder about people’s comprehension levels because I can’t find what they are talking about in my story.
Wading through these critiques is like trying to find a diamond in a pile of shit. Crude maybe but true. Most of what these people have to say is arrogant, condescending, and idiotic. However, I’ve had some really thoughtful critiques. These gems in amongst the crap are really helpful and thought provoking.
Most people want you to write the way they want to read and if the story doesn’t go the way they think it should go then they don’t like it. They don’t look beyond their personal preferences (I know I’m guilty of this which is why I wait to write my letter so I’m not writing it with my first gut reaction.) The problem with this is they aren’t analyzing how it was written but how they reacted to it.
When I find these gems, it usually inspires me to go back to the story for another revision. It inspires me to edit thoughtfully and with impudence. It can really spark the creative juices so that I can improve my work. That is the point of the critique – to be relevant and constructive. Something I hope I keep in mind when I do my own critiques and something I will continue to mine for when I read the critiques I have gotten.