Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Seek to Critique - March IWSG

I'm a big fan of critiques.  I like receiving them.  And I like giving them.

The benefits of receiving them are obvious.  The benefits of giving them, however, are varied and not always immediately evident.

I gave my first critique less than two years ago.  A dozen different insecurities flooded my mind as I did so.

  • Who am I to recommend that this be changed?
  • What if my suggestion ends up being the worst suggestion in the history of critiquing?
  • How can I make sure my feedback will be received in the spirit intended?
  • Did I word this comment so that its meaning won't be misinterpreted?
  • Am I sure the writer's intent didn't just fly over my head?
  • Maybe that section really is perfect and I'm just too dense to recognize it??

And on and on the doubts came and set up residence in my mind.  But had I never sent the critique, that residency would have become permanent.

As with anything we do in life, we improve with practice.  We grow more confident and strengthen our skills, both in analyzing another's words and in conveying ours.

But I've found that I'm the one who benefits most from the critiques I give.  I learn or reinforce grammar lessons.  I see the importance of word choice, sentence and story structure.  I discover new terms, new techniques, and get a feel for what works and what doesn't.  I find myself flagging a writer for something that I still do myself, and promptly make a note to change it in my own manuscript.

Critiquing enables a writer to view his own writing from different perspectives, making possible a more objective assessment of his own skills and tendencies.

Providing a good critique takes a fair bit of time if done well.  And when handled properly, the results will encourage as well as enlighten the writer who wrote the words under your microscope.

Almost two-thirds of my time reading over the past year has been for critiques.  And I do not regret it one bit.  I can only hope those who have received critiques from me have benefited from them as much as I did.

While receiving a critique benefits the receiver, giving a critique benefits everyone. So do everyone a favor. Seek to critique and learn from the experience.

(My apologies if this publishes as new again. I somehow managed to "unpublish" it.)

64 comments:

  1. I always feel so honored when someone asks me to be a CP and take the job very seriously, laboring over the manuscript. I sometimes fear I'm being too particular or not affirming enough or that I miss obvious novel structure I should know. But mostly, I am awed by the talent and caliber of books I have read and grateful to be learning so much in the process.

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    1. I too put a lot of time into doing them and wonder if I'm putting in too many comments. But I prefer receiving more feedback rather than less, so I lean toward doing the same. It is a compliment just to be asked, I think.

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  2. I love receiving critiques as well. A recent one from Carrie Butler for ch1 of my novella For My Country left me so happy because not only were there few errors but she also loved it and said she'd buy the book on the spot when I released it.

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    1. It is gratifying and comforting hearing that what we think/hope works actually does. :-)

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  3. I haven't done any critiquing, but I can see how it can be a valuable resource in learning more.

    Maybe one day.

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    1. I highly recommend it. Starting with short stories or single chapters (or even flash fiction) is how I worked up the confidence to do entire novels.

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  4. I feed off of critiques too. Especially ones that point out tons of problems. But you're right about learning more from going through other people's MSs. I can't even count the number of things I've learned by doing that.

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    1. It is so illuminating on so many levels. It's as good as any brief course or conference in my opinion.

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  5. I totally learned so much from betaing others' manuscripts over the past two years.

    Great post! And very timely for me -- I'm totally linking to this on my Author Critique Connect post! Thanks!

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  6. I'm critiquing this post. Good job!

    Honestly, Jeff, I'm afraid to become a CP for fear that too much of me and my style will carry across. Or, what should I let pass? What should I remark on? I'm afraid that I'm too particular. Same with reviews. So I shy away from them. When the time comes for my own work to go through critique, then I'll find out.

    Good post.

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    1. All are very good questions and very valid. I tend to err on the side of too much information. And if I comment on something stylistic in nature I simply state that it's my preference. Besides 98+% of this stuff is subjective and reader's preference anyway.

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  7. I've had these same thoughts, I cringe to think about those first critiques I gave years ago, but I grow more confident and learn more each time I critique. Just like anything else, it take practice to become proficient. Great post!

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    1. We definitely improve over time. I've learned to withhold certain comments until I've finished the entire manuscript because sometimes the ending invalidates them. Of course, I also go back through all my comments afterwards and try to verify that they all still hold true.

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  8. I have the same issues about my critiques, which is why I stress to the writer that these are only suggestions. But you're right, I've learned a lot from the critiques I've received and try to pass that along to other writers when I beta read. Great post Jeff. (:

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    1. Thanks, Elise. Yes, I always preface my critiques with the fact that everything is opinion and subjective and recommend multiple sets of eyes review any story.

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  9. The greatest obstacle I had to come to terms with in order to give a critic is the thought that I am not native in English. This very fact keeps jumping in my mind with red lights and a big sign that says "How dare you give any opinion on something written in a foreign tongue, most of all when you know little more than nothing as writer in English???" It takes me a lot of brain wash to convince myself I can still have a rightful opinion as reader, if not writer. Yet, I pray during the whole exercise, for Higher Powers to enlighten me so I can make some sense of what I'm trying to convey in my critic.

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    1. You have so very much to offer in so many areas, Al. Most aspects of storytelling is not hampered by any language barriers.

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  10. I think all of us have the same feelings about critiques. Just a we worry our writing won't be good enough we worry our critiques are way out in left field. I think the things I see most in other peoples' manuscripts are the things I'm struggling with in my own. IT really helps me to be able to see them and so hopefully both of us benefit. And because we all understand how it in on both sides of the critique table we can hopefully all learn from each other.

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    1. I've noticed that I tend to be aware of things I have a habit of doing myself. I just finished one critique and I found myself continually saying, "I do this too!" LOL

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  11. I've felt every one of those insecurities you listed while helping critique. But I have to say I am getting better and better, and I pray that I have helped my CPs as much as they have helped me.

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    1. I think any critique given with the genuine intention of helping is indeed helpful. Rarely have I received a critique with more than a paragraph's worth of notes that wasn't helpful in some area or on some level.

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  12. Getting into a critique group was my first step in taking my writing to a new level. Every person in our group sees something different, and 9 times out of 10, they're awesome points. My writing group buddies have raised the bar, forcing me to really consider the critiques I give.

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    1. That is why multiple sets of eyes on any story is so important. I like reading critiques other have given on stories that I've also critiqued. It's quite interesting to see the similarities and differences in the comments.

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  13. I've wanted to start critiquing for a while now, it's something I think I'd be quite good at. Although, the very same questions occur to me. I think you're right, I just need to put myself out there :)

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    1. Yup, you can't learn to swim without jumping in the water. Well, I guess you can dive in or wade in or fall in... ;-) But in any event, you've got to get into the water. Trust me, you won't regret it. I've met some wonderful people through critiquing.

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  14. Mark, you read my mind! I always worry when I critique...I mean if I knew everything I'd be on the best seller list. But then I remind myself, they just want my opinion and the writer is smart enough to know I'm not a genius!

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    1. That is what it all comes down to...our opinions. What one person loves another person will hate. And you're a genius in my estimation!

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  15. Critiquing can be hard, and worrisome. I too always feel as though I'm being too harsh, or as though I don't have to right to say what I'm saying. But, I think that people always appreciate honest comments, because it does make writing better. That, and it can open up some interesting discussions.

    Best,

    Alexandra~

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    1. I agree that people appreciate honest comments. I'd hate to think someone held back and not told me that they think something about my story was horrible. How can I know otherwise?

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  16. I found critiquing difficult at first. I had a hard time distinquishing between real writing problems versus my personal writing preferences. I also worried too much about hurting the writer's feelings.

    But you're right. You often learn as much from critiquing as you do from being critiqued.

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    1. There are times when a person "seeking a critique" is really "seeking validation" and it can be difficult to distinguish between them. But when asked to critique, all we can do is convey our opinions in the same manner we'd like to receive them--politely and with respect.

      But regarding problems v/s preferences, sometimes it's not so important to diagnose the nature as it is to simply state that something doesn't work for us.

      And I'm a firm believer in telling the writer the things that DID work for me. That is just as important as what didn't work. If they don't know it worked, they might change it!

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  17. I agree with Ken, learn as much from critiquing as you do from bing critiqued. I am learning and today I got so much advice that I find to be invaluable. I look forward after visiting so many blogs today to implement what I have learned. Thank you for such an interesting post. sandysanderellasmusings

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    1. You're most welcome, Sandy. It's a good topic and a great practice. :)

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  18. Crits are definitely a great learning tool for all involved!

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    1. I concur. But then you already knew that. :)

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  19. Yes, this is so true. There was so much that I learned from critiquing the work of others. Like the dreaded double verbing (progressive, perfect, etc.) would have never even occurred to me as a writing sin until I saw it in a story I was critiquing. Anytime I talk about critiques I remind people that just like Christmas, it is better to give than receive.

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    1. I've learned much too, things like POV, passive versus active sentences, the importance of sensory details, and the list goes ever on. Mutually beneficial without a doubt.

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  20. It's great that you've given so many critiques, and it sounds like your experiences have been mutually beneficial.

    Julie

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    1. They've definitely been beneficial to me. I hope they've been the same to the others.

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  21. I love this post! I can totally relate. We definitely grow as critters just like we do as writers.

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    1. As with all things, practice makes perfect--or at least closer to it.

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  22. Excellent post. I really enjoy critiquing, but sometimes it's hard to offer comments without sounding like a nit-picking prat, especially, like you, I often pick up on things that I do myself. Now that's embarrassing. Where's the credibility if you can't walk the walk?

    Yep, I share your fears, but agree that giving and receiving critiques make us all stronger writers, and that's what it's all about, isn't it?

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    1. That is indeed what it's all about. What would really be embarrassing is not discovering those things until after you published! You can actually thank the person whose work you're critiquing! :)

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  23. I know I've learned a lot from critiquing the works of others!

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    1. It really is amazing the depth and breadth of knowledge that comes from it.

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  24. Critiquing is a great way to learn from both writers who are above our skill level, as well as those below it. When I critique on of the better writers in my group, I still have things to say, but maybe more from a beta perspective and I learn a lot by reading their work with a critical eye. When I crit someone who is a newbie and really still learning, I learn about pace, grammar, and the essence of story. I like critiques that ask questions; why would he do this when he did x earlier? stuff like that.

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    1. And what I find so interesting is the areas of strengths and weaknesses we have. We can be incredibly strong in one area and yet weak in another. Critiquing is by far the best way to discover both.

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  25. Hey Jeff,

    This might surprise you, but I have done a number of critiques. A number of writers, published and aspiring have asked my opinion and advice on manuscripts they have forwarded me.

    Now mostly what I do is point out research errors in what I've received. For instance, if within a story, a person has used an incorrect street name for an actual place, I point that out to them. For if somebody reading their book realised the error, they could become fixated with the error and disregard the rest of the book.

    Nobody has ever critiqued me. Not even on my blog postings which have been known to go into grammar anarchy overdrive and end up using the conjunction word "and" way too much and with out any commas in a run-on sentence that leaves you gasping for breath.

    All the best, Jeff and happy writing.

    Gary :)

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    1. A little anarchy never hurt anyone. :) And it doesn't surprise me at all, Gary. I've found your wit and humor and way with words most enjoyable to read. And factual details are very important. (One benefit of writing epic fantasy set in other worlds is that there are fewer or those details to worry with.)

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  26. Even when you felt you've done well in a critique, someone feels mishandled sometimes (specifically at a website for people to post and get critiqued on stories, poetry, etc). But, I usually, with humility, try and explain what I meant. Usually that's accepted. It's a risk that the requester takes with critiques. No matter how gracious you try and be, writing is so personal, it takes a while for some to realize not everyone will feel the same about it.

    I hope this makes since - It's late. I need to go to bed!

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    1. That does happen. Sometimes people will ask for a critique when what they really want is a stamp of approval or validation. It's not always evident. But I believe even those who are more sensitive to constructive feedback will, in time, come to see that most comments have merit, whether we ever agree with them or not.

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  27. it's true. i get so much from critting too. but even more, i get to know my writer friends better thru their writing! unfortunately, i will sometimes crit a pubbed book, which to me means the errors are overpowering the story... mostly i can enjoy a good book, but the writer in me cant be quiet sometimes!

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    1. I've found myself highlighting in a published book and stopping, saying to myself, "Wait, I'm not critiquing this!" LOL But you do get to know people through this process. And some of my closest writing friends are ones with whom I've exchanged critiques.

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  28. I couldnt agree more Jeff. Giving crits has taught me so much about my own writing, and of course receiving them goes without saying. I'm always upfront when I give crits that it's only my opinion and I only mention anything that gives me pause, which doesnt necessarily mean it's wrong. We can only offer feedback based on what we know and that's different for everyone, which is why having various beta readers/CPs is helpful. :)

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    1. And that's the main thing, citing what pulls us out of (or deeper into) the story. I always tell folks to take a single person's comments with a grain of salt. But if more than one comment on the same thing...that's when it definitely deserves a closer look.

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  29. That's so true about critiquing. I always learn more about my own writing by critiquing someone else's, even though it sounds strange to say so.

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    1. I think it only sounds strange to those who haven't critiqued. It's not a matter of giving making you feel better about yourself or anything; it's truly a case of improving yourself through helping someone else improve. It's a win-win situation for everyone!

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  30. How did you go about finding writers willing to critique or be critiqued? Did you join a physical or online critique group, or begin with authors you knew?

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    1. Hey, Casey! My initial critiques were with folks I met as part of Yahoo's Fantasy Writing Group an then with others I met through my blog. I've also exchanged critiques via Critters.org, but there are many such places available. The trick is finding the group that works best for you.

      In last week's Sunday Surfing, I linked to The Matchelor that Falling 4 Fiction is running. And when this week's Sunday Surfing goes live in a few hours, there will be a link to Author Crit Partner Connection via Carissa Talor's blog.

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    2. You are such a wealth of information. Thanks so much for all these directions to turn.

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  31. I've critiqued short stories and novels in the past and completely agree with you about this. I still have that nagging doubt in my head that I'm doing it wrong whenever I have the chance to critique, but that's all it usually is in the end. Critiques are nothing but helpful for everyone involved!

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    1. This is true. Even suggestions we don't necessarily agree with are beneficial. It's been my experience that when more than one person comments on the same scene or section, additional attention to it is warranted. Maybe it needs to change. Maybe not. But a closer look is usually warranted.

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