Friday, May 22, 2009

How do you critique?

What kind of critiques do you give? Do you give the same kind of critiques that you expect from others? Are you too general in your advice? Too vague? Do you use a fair amount of tact? Courtesy? Do you do a quick read-through and then dole out advice like it was candy on Halloween? Or do you seriously read the words entrusted to you? When someone gives me their prized manuscript to read, I try to point out as much good about it as I can. I sandwich my advice. Top layer-good stuff, middle layer-things they might need to look at and consider changing, bottom layer-good stuff again. I've found that if you use this sandwich method, it makes the writer feel better. They can see the things they might need to change clearly, because you put that in the middle, between the good stuff and it's easier to swallow.

I've had all kinds of critiques. Envious, too general,and plain mean, I just want to hurt you critiques. I've had some really great crits, too. I'm critiquing this morning, and that is why I thought of this post. The mean critiques that I've had, I threw them out. Never to think of them again. But let's face it, they hurt. One almost made me quit writing. It said something like; you couldn't write your way out of a paper bag. UGH, that was tough. But I grew as a writer that day. I judged that my story was better than that person knew, and I felt sorry for her, not me! The sandwich method is a great way to critique.

I learned about this from someone. I can't remember who. If you read this, feel free to speak up and I'll put your name with a link on this post.:) Anyone have other great ideas for critiquing out there? :)

16 comments:

  1. That's a great tip, thanks!

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  2. Liyana,glad to see you! :)

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  3. Robyn, I know I mentioned the "sandwich method" of critiquing in the comments forum of a blogpost over at The Literary Lab a while ago. But it's a common method of critique/evaluation so you may have picked it up from somewhere else! :)

    I've also found that the most destructive crits I've received (I'm thinking of the profs who supervised my masters degree)were also the ones I grew the most from. But it really hurt to read that destructive criticism and, because criticism is so subjective, when I do crits I try to be balanced, which is why the sandwich method works so well for me.

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  4. Ann, I learned about this two years ago. And the reason why I decided to post about it, was, I see so many people hurt by crits they received(the mean ones), that I thought maybe some of the critters giving the too harsh crits might read and learn.LOL I've also had it the other way around, which I dislike as much, the too sweet crits. LOL Destructive criticism is well, destructive. I like constructive criticism, because it makes me a better writer! Thanks for your comment! :)

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  5. Those are great tips. My favorite groups are the ones in which everyone is respectful and genuinely cares about one another's work. I love honesty. I like to hear about what's good and what needs work. And I love a group that celebrates one another's success. Robyn, I wish you lived closer!

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  6. It is a learned skill - that's for certain. You have to learn the rules, be thoughtful, take your time.... all very important stuff :) I sure am grateful for critiques, though!

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  7. Amy, me too. We'd have a great time learning from one another. And respect, caring, is what it's all about. I want to be published, to do that I must have the criticism of my peers. Just not MEAN criticism. :)

    Tess, I am grateful for critiques, too. And you're right, it is a learned skill. But a critter must be considerate. :)

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  8. This is always a good topic to revisit! When I crit I always read through the piece first- so I have an idea of where it is going and what the author is trying to accomplish. Then I read through again more critically looking for things that are awkwardly phrased or that confuse me as I read. I don't worry about copy editing - but if I notice a typo I'll point it out.

    When I present the critique I start with a general overview of my impressions and then the specifics. I always try to be positive - overly harsh critiques aren't fun to get, so why write them? But it's also not helpful to get a critique that says "this was great" and nothing else. It feels good at the time - but unless you're hearing it from the editor buying your book, there's probably more that could be said.

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  9. Great post. I'll link to it on my blog later today. I personally enjoy critiques, both giving and receiving. For one thing, it allows me to see how other writers handle things within their work. And when I'm being critiqued, I can usually tell if someone is being envious or spiteful rather than truly trying to help me improve the work. I am pretty good about taking criticism, so I don't mind at all if someone pokes and prods at my (supposedly) finished work.

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  10. Thanks for visiting my blog. I am just starting to see how much critiques can help, as well as having a good solid group of writers who can help support you through your journey with writing. I enjoy giving and receiving critiques but I haven't done many or received many. I'd like to think, however, I really take the time to look at what's been given to me.

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  11. It's too bad there aren't more like you. It's just easier to believe the bad stuff. When it's given in small doses, it's easier to swallow. A spoon full of sugar, you know.

    When I first started writing, about a hundred years ago, I got involved in a good critique group that took the time to gently work with me. I learned so much and credit them along with hordes of reading, for the improvements I enjoy today.

    But there does come a time when you have to set off on you own. Thanks for the post.

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  12. I'm still learning. My crits generally list spelling/grammar issues, phrases that sound awkward to me, over all flow of the story, and character consistencies. I also try to point out well-written phrases, along with my reader reactions to the story.

    I try to be kind, but I'm also straight forward without any sugar coating.

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  13. Thanks Eric! I appreciate that. It sounds to me like you pretty much know when a critter is really trying to help you, or is being hurtful on purpose. Most want to help, but there's that tiny element that fear helping someone else. They think that other person might get published before them. :)

    Cindy, giving critiques help me as much as getting them helps me. I t helps me notice stuff in my own work. Thanks for visiting! :)

    Elizabeth, Yes there comes a time when you have to set off on your own, but you can still enjoy a good, solid critique of your work. And I agree, it is easier to take(the bad stuff about your writing) when a reader also points out the great stuff about your writing. :)

    Danyelle, Agreed. No sugar coating, that won't help anyone! I was in a crit group and the person who actually started the group, wanted *gentle* crits. I don't believe in that. So I gave my critique based on trying to help this woman be a better writer. She ended up leaving. Sad but true. :)

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  14. I think critiqueing does develop as we go. I fear that when I started, I probably was one of those too critical people...but eventually I realized that a lot of what I was being too ctitical about was just personal taste. Now I try to keep personal taste out of my crits, unless it's something really big.

    But I have NEVER said that someone should quit writing!! I've suggested a project isn't working, or that it needs a major over-haul, but I would NEVER EVER EVER tell someone to quit writing! How rude!

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  15. Last year i did an MA in creative writing and part of our course was reading each others work and giving critiques. I was very nervous about seeing my work ripped to shreds but it really helped me. I see the method to the madness!

    Personally, i tried being as diplomatic as i could in my own critiques but whatever you say is always going to hurt slightly. I never understood someone saying 'they're not critiquing you, just your work.' I don't think thats true at all. My work is me. You critique the work, you critique me. Everyone puts a piece of themselves in their writing.

    But i agree that critiques help. 100%. But i draw the line at being mean and discouraging. That's awful!

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