Friday, September 5, 2008

To crit or not to crit

Many of us who write have a small circle of critique partners, fellow writers–usually at a similar standard and with similar goals–with whom we exchange work and offer constructive criticism. Or that’s the theory.

Critiquing may be a great help in improving your work but it can also be rather like walking a tightrope over a snake-infested pit circled by tigers. And lions. Hungry ones.

OK, I got a bit carried away there, but critiquing does come with responsibility and a not insignificant risk.

The responsibility lies in making sure you give your critique partners fair and constructive feedback on their work. Your job as a CP is to help them figure out what they’re trying to say when they haven’t done that as well as they could have – you’ll need tact, by the way – and to spot any deficiencies and suggest remedies. It’s a tough job.

Now to the risks. There’s the risk you’ll offend someone. The risk they’ll offend you. The risk you’ll be making changes that are contrary to your story, your themes and your voice.

I am lucky to have some awesome CPs and this is what I’ve learnt: when critiquing it’s best to be honest, but go gently. You need to stay true to the writer’s voice and goals, not your own. This is not your story.

When you ask for a critique, be specific about what feedback you are looking for; this gives your CPs some guidance and ensures you don’t get a line edit when you just wanted to know if the plot hung together. If you listen to that voice within you’ll know which bits of advice to act on, which bits to tuck away for some thought, and which bits to dump in the bin.

Which voice is that, you say? You know. It’s the voice you let out on the page when everything is going well. Your voice.

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