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How to…critique

Written by Iain Rowan

No one likes to hear criticism, but all writers need a critical friend in order to develop their work. That’s why an essential part of being a writer is being able to give and receive feedback. But how do you frame criticism so it’s useful? And what do you do with criticism when you receive it? Iain Rowan, from Sunderland’s Holmeside Writers, has some advice.

It’s the heart of a good writing group, a great way of improving your writing, and it’s very simple. You share your work with other people in the group. They read it and give you feedback, usually in the group. You then think about what’s been said and how you might use it to improve your writing.

For critique (“critting”) to work well, it’s best to follow some basic ground rules.

1. Be honest.
If you don’t think something works, say so. That’s what people need to hear. It’s what you need to hear when it’s your turn. But… think about the wayin which you say it. Be kind.Always be constructive, always be honest, but also be kind. You can still be critical about something you think doesn’t work or needs more attention, you just do it in a kind and constructive way.

2. Be specific.

‘I like this scene’ is nice to hear but doesn’t help the other person making their writing better. Whatis it that you like about it? The pace, the choice of interesting words, the way dialogue develops character? This is even more important where you are feeding back suggestions for improvement.

3. How you would write something is not the point.

Everyone has his or her own style. Everyone is writing his or her own work. A good crit helps people write the work that they want to write, not the work that you would write if you were them.

4. Crit the work, not the author.

Rather than saying ‘you say…’ or ‘you have the characters…’, give feedback like ‘this scene slows the pace down’ or ‘the characters here don’t seem true to what we know of them so far’. It makes it feel less personal.

5. No egos.

We all have something to learn, and can benefit from listening to every suggestion or comment. It’s not a personal attack. If your work is having a crit, listen without interrupting, and definitely don’t argue. If you have given feedback on someone else’s work and they don’t take up your genius suggestion… accept that it’s their choice.

6. But remember-in the end, it’s up to you.

If your work is being critted, wait until you hear all the comments. Then weigh them up. Mull them over. You don’t have to follow them. Sometimes, the feedback may be contradictory. In the end, it’s your work, and your choice.

7. Enjoy it.

Sometimes it can be tough when it’s your work being critted, but it’s the third best way of becoming a better writer. So have fun with it.

(The best way of becoming a better writer? Write. Then write more. The second? Read. Then read more.)

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