Welcome to Part 5 of my Critique Series. If you haven’t already, check out the earlier posts in the series: Fresh Eyes, 10 Qualities Of The Perfect Critique Partner, Where, Oh Where, Has My Little CP Gone?, and Match Made In Heaven, Or Hell?
With all this talk of crits and CPs, some of you have to be wondering exactly how you’re supposed to learn to critique someone else’s work. You might assume that if you can write, you can crit. Not so. Critting is an art in itself, and takes practice to learn to do well. A good crit is as valuable to a writer, especially one who’s still learning, as a good dictionary. We aren’t talking about your cousin’s “I loved it! Great job! Keep it up!” sort of crit.
Many beginning critiquers feel they have nothing of value to offer, but this far from the truth. Any reader who makes the effort can give tremendously valuable feedback. A beginning critter can tell you what worked and didn’t work for them, how the passage made them feel, if there were parts they didn’t understand, their impressions of characters, etc, just like any reader can. Never feel as if you have nothing to offer just because you aren’t an expert with grammar, or don’t know how to spot intrusions of authorial voice. Honest feedback from a lay reader can help the writer more than an expert crit with some issues.
Learning to crit as a writer, rather than strictly as a reader, takes time and practice. There are so many levels and elements to learn that it just won’t happen overnight, or by osmosis. If you want to get good at it, you have to do the work. I haven’t found any shortcuts – and since I’m lazy, I’ve looked. 😀 There are several things you can do to learn, and IMO, they work best if you do them all in conjunction with each other, not just concentrating on one at a time.
First, find some websites where writers share work for others to crit. Familiarize yourself with the site, then get to work. Read a passage, and as you read, take notes in a word processor document about your impressions of different parts of the writing. Does the grammar seem okay? Are details consistent? How do you feel about the characters? Why? And so on. Keep your notes to yourself. Read the other members’ crits of the passage, and compare them to your notes. Did you spot any of the issues the other critters did? Copy and past the crits into your document, and go through them carefully and find what they’re talking about in the passage. This will help you learn to spot issues, and no what the problem is. If you like, you can offer your input as a reader. As you become better at critting, offer your feedback. *A word of warning: Make sure you’re tactful with your feedback and crits. And be aware that even if you are, some writers are only interested in hearing how lovely their work is, and may argue with your crit, or try to begin a flame war, etc. You don’t want a rep for arguing with the writers you crit, so your best bet is to just say “Sorry you didn’t like my crit” and bow out. If you see that writers on a particular site often attack critters, or vise versa, you might want to move on and find another crit site, rather than risk appearing unprofessional.
Practice critting your own work, just as you would another writer’s. When you’re comfortable your work is as good as you can make it, post short passages on crit sites for others to to crit. Remember to thank those who take the time from their busy schedule to help you. If you have questions about the issues they point out, ask for clarification in a way that doesn’t imply resentment on your part. If a critter engages in a personal attack on you, or is rude, keeping your response to a simple thank you is probably the wisest course. Also, remember, not everyone is going to like your work, and most won’t think it is as brilliant as you do. Part of being a writer is developing a thick skin. It’s fine, and normal, if your feelings are hurt or if you’re angry. Cry, vent to an offline friend, write out everything you’d like to tell the critter, then DELETE it. You don’t want a rep for being precious or speshul about crits.
Read everything you can get your hands on, particularly in your genre, both good and bad. Analyze what you read. How does the author deal with the issues that you struggle with? What works and doesn’t work? How could the author have improved the work? Rewrite passages to make them better using your crits.
Work to improve your own writing, and to understand and use all the tools and techniques possible. Don’t depend on just writing for that improvement. You need to learn new techniques and methods, and how to use them well, in order to improve. Find a couple of *good* writing websites or blogs and follow them closely. Use sites like AbsoluteWrite.com to understand different aspects of writing. Be careful whose advice you follow. Someone who has read a great deal about writing, but hasn’t been writing long, or hasn’t written much, won’t have as much to offer as someone who has been writing a few years and reads good writing info, etc.
Keep at it. As you learn, crit work you’ve already critted, to see if you can spot elements you didn’t see earlier. Revise your own work from crits, being careful to use just what works for your story. Constantly challenge yourself and your skills. You’ll grow, both at critting, and at revising your own work.
Are there other ways you know to improve your crit skills? Other tips for dealing the giving and receiving of crits?
Next week, we’ll look at some ways to communicate your crit with your potential CPs. We’re nearing the end of the series, with two more posts planned, unless someone wants more information about a particular aspect of critiquing. I may not have the answers, but I might at least know where to look. The last post of the series will have a number of links to resources with more info about crits, and sites to post work and critique others’ work. If you know of a crit site, or another site with helpful info, please post the link in comments.