Useful criticism: 3 tips & 3 things to remember

Useful criticism: 3 tips and 3 things to rememberI’ve written before about how destructive negative criticism can be here and here, and why writers need to be aware of the various reactions and factors that can determine how they evaluate criticism here.

Today I want to suggest 3 tips on how to elicit useful criticism, and 3 things to remember.

3 Tips

1. Always make sure you choose critique partners who are either professional editors/agents or serious writers. “Serious writer” does not necessarily mean a writer who is published, but rather a writer who is working hard, studying the craft, and writing.

2. Ask specific questions and explanation of comments. For example, if you receive a critique and find the comment “This part is boring”, ask your critique partner: “Why? What makes it boring?”

3. Ask questions beforehand, when you submit your writing to a critique partner. Tell them, “I’m looking for comments on my characterization”, rather than just leaving it up to them. If you are more worried about plot development, then by all means, ask your editor to concentrate on that. If you want a detailed line-by-line edit, then ask for it. If you don’t, then specify that.

3 Things to Remember

1. Good critique partners will offer reasons for their reactions to your writing. They will also offer suggestions, alternatives, details, and examples.

2. People will react differently to any piece of writing. What one person finds uninteresting, contrived, or flat, another will find brilliant and inspired. This is another reason you should ask more than one person.

3. Know who you are, and what you want. After you receive all the critiques you asked for, it’s you and your story or poem or article or novel. When it’s published, the words on that page will be attributed to you, so make sure you believe in every single one of them. Don’t ever allow anyone into bullying you to change something you don’t want to change.

For a great resource on critiquing and critique groups, read Becky Levine’s The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have any other tips on how to elicit more useful criticism?

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11 Comments

Filed under writers, writing, Writing related

11 responses to “Useful criticism: 3 tips & 3 things to remember

  1. Nice tips!

    I, personally, like to have a variety of people review my work. Both writers and non-writers, both male and female, and people with different interests. I find that some people who just enjoy reading and who don’t write themselves have the potential to give really good feedback, since they represent your larger ‘target’ audience. They can tell you if they’ve been ‘pulled in’, whether or not characters are 3-D, how believable events are, etc.

    So I feel variety is important. With variety one can get feedback from all parts of the spectrum!

    • Marwa Elnaggar

      Great suggestion and argument for reader-as-critique partner, Radha. Yes,you can definitely get a reader who gives great feedback.

  2. 2blu2btru

    I think that it’s also important to make sure the person at least respects the genre you are working in. I don’t like much science fiction and would have a hard time giving a good criticism of a work of paranormal fiction, even though I am a “serious writer”. If the person doesn’t like the genre it’s hard for them to be objective about your work, in my experience.

    As the other commentor said, I think it’s important to have someone who likes to read for enjoyment. Once you get all of the technical things out of the way and your piece is well written, it still has to be enjoyable, absorbing…”good.”

    http://www.copywrite1985.wordpress.com

    • Marwa Elnaggar

      That’s so true (about the genre). I would never be able to critique a science fiction piece because I simply am not interested in the genre. Which brings me to the second point. I think all writers are first and foremost readers. I haven’t heard of one writer who doesn’t read. Does that species exist? Thanks for dropping by my blog, 2blu2btru 🙂

      • 2blu2btru

        I think that sometimes writers stop reading for mere enjoyment and start reading for technique, craft…the English Paper Mentality, I like to call it. They are reading as if a teacher expects a ten page paper on the motifs of the book or a deconstructionist take on it. I’ve been guilty of reading as an editor and not a reader plenty of times (which is another reason I can’t read a Twilight novel…bad grammar/typos irk me). Sometimes someone who is “only a reader” is better able to say whether it’s an enjoyable read…along with professional reviewers. I’m working on my “reader” muscles versus my “she should’ve used a stronger verb there” muscles. 😀

        • Marwa Elnaggar

          As a lit major, I know exactly what you mean. That’s why I agree that it’s always best to get more than one person to read your work.

  3. Thanks Marwa for another useful piece on critique. The issue of ‘liking’ a genre or piece is to me irrelevant to whether or not I can offer an effective critique. Rather, I consider the elements and style etc., what works and why and what doesn’t work and why in terms of character and setting and story and plot and language and scene structure and point of view and voice, and so on. And yes, I whole-heartedly agree, there is a big difference between the eye of the casual reader and the eagle eye of the critiquer. Francine Prose has a great book which explores the relationship between reading and writing called, Reading Like A Writer. Is is well worth studying.

    • Marwa Elnaggar

      Cathy, I absolutely love Francine Prose’s book. It’s definitely a must-read for writers! I think the reason I couldn’t really critique a genre I wasn’t interested in is because I wouldn’t be fair. I’ve never tried it, but I know I’d start reading expecting to be bored or confused or just simply uninterested, and that’s not how I like to approach critiquing.

      Some people read any piece they critique twice (I try to do this if I have time, which is not always). The first time, they approach it as a reader, but all the while trying to be aware of their reactions to the piece. The second time, they read it much more closely, trying to figure out why they had those reactions as readers when they read it the first time.

  4. Ziyu

    Dear Marwame:
    I am a Chinese journalist from a chinese weekly newspaper, The Time Weekly. Could you please do me a favour to talk with about the thing happening in Egypt? If you can do me a favour, can I have your phone number and email ? Mine is
    mzhang928@163.com
    Many thanks
    Best
    Ziyu

  5. Pingback: Criticism & Creative Endevors « Muse Ampoule

  6. @Aliceayres (twitter)

    Last day a was very surprised and happy when you said you like Pablo Neruda. I’ m chilean, now living in Portugal. I really hope you learn spanish to enjoy Neruda’s work, on his native words, is priceless.
    He was a rebel, dreaming and working all his life for the people of Chile…
    A so necesary life example for this days…

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