To Critique and be Critiqued: a hard but necessary art

2015-05-06 13.09.51

I was at my local Barnes and Noble last week, sitting with a writing buddy and redoing the opening of my most recent work in progress. I had received some great critique feedback at the NESCBWI conference in April and I’d finally figured out how to make my opening stronger. Beginnings are hard, and mine…just wasn’t working out.

But no biggie; that’s what all those little tappity-tap things on your keyboard are for: fixing the weak bits and making everything stronger.

I’d been sitting on those edits for a week and a half, gathering the courage to jump in and start again. Because if you think editing is hard, critiques are even harder, and I just had to take the time to let this one sink in a little before I was ready to get back to work.

Those who know me, or who read this blog, will know I’m a big fan of critique groups, either in ‘real life’ or online. I know my writing has improved tremendously since I began sharing my work with others, and in turn reading their work in an attempt to share my oh-so-not-very-profound wisdom.

It’s not easy, though. It really isn’t. Critiquing someone else’s work is a delicate business. You want to be encouraging but you also want to help make that person’s work better, stronger. It’s a fine balance. And when you put your work out there for someone else to read, you’re hoping for the same thing: enough encouragement to keep on going, along with enough feedback to know where you’re heading.

Critiquing and, in turn, being critiqued really is a vital part of the process if you intend to grow as a writer. Because if you eventually get published, you’re going to have to deal with editorial notes and endless rewrites. No one is going to look at your work and go: “Oh, it’s perfect just as it is. A precious jewel. Let’s not even copy-edit, let’s throw it straight out there for public consumption.”

Yeah. Not going to happen.

I’m slowly learning the art of taking criticism on the chin and putting it to work for you. Because it stings, I’m not going to lie. It always stings. But then, once the dust settles, you find yourself nodding along slowly. “Ahh, I get it. That makes sense.” And then you sit down and make the changes and gosh darn it if your work isn’t all the better afterwards.

I started out small, following the critiques section at the SFF Chronicles forum. Then I slowly gained a trusted group of online friends who were willing to beta read my work, and let me practice my fledgling critique skills on their own novels. The next step was my real life critique group; learning to say things straight to someone’s face and hear it right back at you. And at the recent conference I mentioned, I took it one step further and booked a couple of critique sessions with literary agents.

You know what? Each of these steps has been a learning curve, a whole new process. And my writing is all the richer for it. It’s hard to write all on your own, without feedback, without guidance. Pick up a book – any book – and you’ll probably find the acknowledgements are full of beta (or early) readers, writing groups, agents and editors. They say it takes a village to raise a child… It certainly takes a whole network of support to write a novel. And you’re the only one who can set that up.

2 Replies to “To Critique and be Critiqued: a hard but necessary art”

  1. You’re exactly right in saying that being critiqued (and taking critiques gracefully) is something that every writer has to learn how to do. The popular idea of the writer is someone who locks oneself in the attic, slaving over a typewriter, forgetting to eat or sleep, never interacting with the outside world. In actuality, writing requires more of an “it takes a village” mentality. No piece of writing is perfect, and listening to other writers provide constructive criticism can only help you improve.


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