Critiquing. It’s a sticking point for most authors across the board. Early on, most want to “defend their babies,” a natural reaction in the process. Later down the road, most just get used to it or grow a thick skin. But this got me thinking: why grow a thick skin? Why become desensitized to correction or guidance? If anything, we should be more receptive, not calloused. But sayings have origins, and I believe the evolution of such is because of how caustic people have become.
After much deliberation–about half a year–I’ve decided to tackle the topic of critiquing. I’m sure I’ll have several posts, but how much detail is still undetermined. This isn’t all-encompassing and meant to be a guide rather than scripture or edict. This isn’t designed to supersede any guidance on any critique groups you may be a part of. This is a short overview. Gritty details will come later.
Writer Edict: Before I get too deep into this, here’s something for the writer: Make sure your chapter/writing is the absolute best of your abilities before submitting. Yes, this means rewritten multiple times, edited by yourself, and cleaned up to include proper alignment (justified), indentions, font (nothing crazy–use Garamond, Times, Palatino), etc. You, as the writer, want to make the best impression possible, as if submitting to a potential agent or publishing house. You want to win beta readers and future critique partners. Doling out garbage won’t endear you to anyone. Put forth the effort!
Now, on to the critiquers.
1. Know what you’re getting yourself into–By this, I mean, at least know a premise of the story and the target audience. Nine times out of ten, I pass on anything YA. This is a personal preference of mine, and I’ve got a long list as to why. There’s a difference between targeting an audience of teens and writing that just happens to fall into this category for lack of (insert long list here)–Brandon Sanderson comes to mind on the latter aspect. There are a few gems among the YA. Let’s not forget that JK Rowling redefined the YA genre when Harry Potter first came out. I’ve read them multiple times. But! To be real–JK’s last few books were anything but YA. They just fell into that category because she didn’t fully explore thematic elements or adult scenarios. Besides, how long are you going to ride on those laurels? If you want a shortlist of some of the reasons why I dislike YA, click here.
2. If you set out to destroy dreams, you’re in the wrong–Let’s be frank for a moment: There are some real assholes on the internet. Ninety-nine percent wouldn’t have the gall to say in person what they type online. Anonymity emboldens them. So, too, is it with internet critiques. I’ve seen and heard about the worst. The following is something that was relayed to me by a critique partner. What part of the following is helpful?–God, your writing sucks, and there’s nothing I can do to fix this. You should stop writing!” That didn’t tell them anything except you’re an asshole. Not one bit of that helped the writing. Don’t be this person.
3. Lack of meat in the feedback–I don’t know how many times I’ve read: “This is good. Neat. I liked it.” Much like the person trying to destroy dreams, how exactly does this help anyone? What part of this feedback can anyone specifically look at and go, “Ah, I see what they meant there; I should make a mental note in the future.” If you’re signing on to give a critique, give one with actual substance. What part of that made you like it? The prose? Character? Plot point?
4. It’s okay to back away after your initial critique–Some groups have a word limit that someone has to critique. In one writing group I’m a part of, we don’t limit authors in what they can submit. We do, however, have a bare minimum requirement for critiquers, 2,000 words. However, for strangers on the internet, it is okay to back out. Once, I offered to critique someone’s writing. I gave them the full deal as I give anyone else. After the opening paragraph, I knew I was in for a slog. After half a page, I was hard-pressed to find anything positive to say. By the end of the page, I knew nothing productive would come of me continuing. As much as possible, I tried to remain neutral, or at the very least, free of overt negativity. I put a line at the bottom and said, “This isn’t my genre/target audience, and I’m uncomfortable with critiquing further based on my biased opinion.” This gives me an out, and it doesn’t destroy someone’s aspirations. Again, you’re not here to crush someone’s dreams but strengthen their writing. If you can’t productively do this, back out.
5. Give what you’d want to receive–Go into as much detail as you’d wish to get back. I’ve given out critiques that I spent hours going through only to receive something that appears they read it in twenty minutes and added a few comments. If you can’t find something to critique on their writing, do so as a reader. Go the extra mile. If you aren’t receiving the feedback you need, either talk to your partner or find a new one. Remember that everyone is different, and their critique will reflect the type of reader they are.
I’m not saying a critique needs to be filled with sunshine and rainbows, they just need to be productive. Help a writer craft a better story, prose, character, whatever … don’t destroy their aspirations. I’ll have a post on how I go about providing critiques in the future. I hope this helps.
If you enjoyed this content, check out my books, The Bearer of Secrets, and The Demon’s Fate on Amazon. All works are available on Kindle Unlimited, eBook, and print. Reviews can be found on Goodreads and Amazon.