Criticism is hard to take, but most of us are too close to our own work to recognize the flaws in our writing. That’s why being in a writer's group or having critique partners can be beneficial, even crucial to a writer. With that in mind, I thought I’d jot down some thoughts on what it takes to be a good crit partner, whether in a one-on-one relationship or in a group setting.
FOR THE GIVER:
1. Critiquing, when done right, should be a give and take situation. So be reliable. You know how anxious you are when you let someone else see your baby. So put the poor person on the receiving end out of her misery and complete your crit within the agreed upon time. For example, my writer’s group meets once a month and we expect everybody to have taken the time to read and critique everyone’s work by the next meeting. If you have a crit partner, the time limit will be much shorter than that, especially if someone is under the gun on a deadline of some kind.
2. Before you set out to critique another writer’s work, be sure you know what they want. Do they need/want structural help or plot suggestions? Do they have an area of weakness they need help with, say, for example, dialogue tags or commas, conflict or formatting? Are they ready for an honest-to-goodness real critique or are they at the beginning of the learning curve and need some gentle suggestions to improve their writing?
3. Be constructive and positive. If you find a problem, offer a suggestion on how to fix it. Be respectful of the other person. You don’t want to shut them down.
4. Know that it’s okay if they don’t take your advice. It’s not your story. Writing is subjective and everyone has to find their own voice. Your job is to help make the work better, not make it your own. (Something I need to work on, as I tend to get carried away and do too much of a rewrite. Soooo much easier and FUN to edit someone else’s work than to actually write something of my own!)
5. Try and find something positive to say about the other person’s work. We all have strengths and weaknesses as writers. A few flowers on the page never hurt anybody and might be what someone needs to persevere in the craft. Mary Kay Ash says, “Sandwich every bit of criticism between two thick layers of praise.” And remember Mary Poppins’ sage advice: “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
FOR THE RECEIVER:
1. Don’t be a taker who never gives back. It should be a reciprocal relationship.
2. Don’t overload the person giving the critique. In other words, don’t expect them to critique your whole book in one sitting, unless they’ve agreed to be your Beta reader. No more than 20-25 pages at one time, especially if you belong to a group where there will be multiple submissions.
3. Don’t take the criticism personally. Remember, it’s subjective. Opinions are like behinds, everyone has one. Find me a writer everyone loves and agrees upon. Go on. I dare you.
4. With that in mind, don’t take it out on your crit partner or writer’s group if you get your feelings hurt by an honest, constructive critique. In other words, don’t use the fact that your work needs tweaking as an excuse to eviscerate someone else’s work. I know people this has happened to. Ugly.
5. Finally, give careful consideration to advice given, but remember it’s YOUR story. It’s up to you to decide whether to accept your crit partner’s suggestions or reject them.