Want to be an effective critique partner? Here’s the challenge: Drop the comment “I liked or didn’t like…” from your critique tool box. Sure, when reading for pleasure, likability of a work is important. However, when in the draft stage and developing the work, someone “liking” or “not liking” what you wrote is not all that relevant. The “like/didn’t like” tool is obsolete.
“But wait,” you say, “I want people to like my writing. How will I get better if I don’t know if they like my writing or not?”
The real question is: Will you actually get better with the knowledge someone liked or didn’t like your writing? Does liking or not liking give information that improves what was written? Does that tell you if the transitions are choppy or the character lacks depth or the dialogue is stilted and unrealistic?
A critique partner is not there to validate the emotional attachment the writer has to the story, which is what we want in our little beating writer hearts that fervently hope this piece of our soul, the work we write, will find acceptance. A critique partner is there to help the writer improve the work.
Don’t say you like the writing or didn’t like it. Instead, say why.
If a critique partner can articulate the fine points of emotion that were generated as the piece was read, can identify the feelings beneath and what caused those emotions—integral to the response of like/didn’t like, then really good information will move from critique reader to writer. And it won’t matter if the piece was liked or not liked because that whole like/didn’t like concept is not important. It’s interesting, but not important. The causes for like/didn’t like responses are what provide information that help the writer identify areas for improvement or create a check on a character’s development or the story’s progress as intended; this is the vital information.
When a critique partner has mastered this skill, then providing useful feedback on work read and not enjoyed is no more of a challenge than work that was enjoyed. Letting go of like/didn’t like is the gateway for providing useful, well considered, helpful feedback that avoids personal, negative undertones for the writer when hard to hear insights are part of the critique. The hardest feedback given comes when the writing created discomfort, lost the reader, was boring or difficult to read. If the immediate response while reading was ‘blah, didn’t like this.’ Well, why?
Is the discomfort a personal issue? Then that’s the reader’s issue to deal with not the writer’s. If you didn’t like when the writer reminded you, the reader, of a personally uncomfortable experience? That means the writer has successfully created a bond between reader and the story. That is good information. If you didn’t like the piece because the story is boring, plodding on and on and on with seemingly unimportant detail and back story? That reason also offers useful information.
Articulate for the writer what, why, and when you as reader had particular responses. Move beyond the easy comment of like/didn’t like. Why or what emotions and when they were felt provide far more valuable information for the writer than like or didn’t like.
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About the Author
Vicki Hudson writes narrative essay, poetry, fiction and flash fiction. Her book, No Red Pen: Writers, Writing Groups & Critique, was independently published in January, 2012. She retired in December, 2012 after various occupations and 33 years in the Army Reserves. Currently, she is working on two poetry collections, Gun Control – Narrative, prose and found poetry collection exploring guns and violence in American culture and society, and the second Other Mommy –Narrative and prose poem poetry collection exploring the experience of the non-biological mother in a same gender parented family. Find her recent work in Bay Laurel (2012), and forthcoming in Bluestem, Adanna, and American Athenaeum Literary journals.
No Red Pen: Writers, Writing Groups & Critique is available as a free Ebook download at Smashwords, Apple’s iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, & Kobo. Buy the Ebook at Amazon. Find it in print at Diesel, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.
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