Tag Archives: destructive criticism

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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Kill the critic… (Crimes for writers to commit – Part 1)

If there is one crime I would totally support every writer’s right to commit, it would be this: cold-blooded, premeditated murder of the destructive critic. You know who I mean: that whiny-voiced, wheedling guy inside (or outside) with greasy hair and a “reject” button at his fingertips.

Criticism is essential, and it’s the only way a writer can improve. It can be that inner voice that tells you that the sentence or paragraph or scene you just wrote is clumsy. Or it can be a well-meaning friend or mentor or teacher or reader who points out that your writing lacks life.

Sometimes there’s nothing worse than praise for a writer. How many times has the polite, “Oh, it’s nice,” or “Great writing!” frustrated you as a writer? What was nice about it? Why was the writing great? How can it be better?

But the ultimate in writing hell is wishy-washy, general negative criticism. “I don’t know, you can do better than this,” or “I didn’t really feel the writing,” or quite simply, “This sucks.” The worse is usually an awkward silence, which makes you prey to all the my-writing-sucks demons who can come up with a million and three terrible possibilities of what that silence meant.

Whether you hear this kind of criticism from well-meaning friends/mentors/teachers/readers, or from your inner voice, learn to recognize it for what it is: the whiny-voiced, wheedling guy with greasy hair who deserves to die. You can usually do this by identifying the accompanying symptoms:

– a sudden hatred of your writing

– a sense of overwhelming despair

– deep seated fear that you “will never make it”

– extreme reluctance to write

– recurring wish to stop now before you get laughed out of the writing world and give up

If you can’t get yourself to commit murder and cringe at the thought of blood, then learn to take that advice…

…and throw it out the window. Ignore everyone and just write.

The best lesson a writer can learn is how to block, throw out, kill, or otherwise destroy any of this kind of destructive criticism.

The second best lesson a writer can learn is how to recognize and deal with that elusive creature: constructive criticism. But that’s another topic for another day.

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