As I put together the proposal for the book I’m writing for Writer’s Digest, The Critiquer’s Survival Guide, and as the editors at Writer’s Digest polled people about what they’d want in this kind of a book, I heard a lot about the qualities people are looking for (or haven’t managed to find) in a critique group. I heard words like support and encouragement.
Respect is important when you’re in a critique group, no question. As writers, we work hard to think through our ideas, develop our characters and plotlines, and put our words on the page. We expect, and deserve, those words to be treated as important and valuable.
When I talk to people, I hear horror stories of a critiquer who tried to rewrite another person’s story, or who hit the ground of the critique session running, with nothing, but negative & nasty comments to voice. And many people who haven’t had this kind of experience hesitate to expose their work for critique, out of fear that such a moment is lurking just around the corner.
Obviously, this kind of critique is the very opposite of respectful. The effort and energy it takes to hit someone this hard could just as easily, more easily, be expended to build a critique that is supportive and encouraging. And helpful.
Because the definition of respect that I hear most often, in terms of critique groups, is, I think, a bit too narrow. Yes, respectful does mean remembering that you, the critiquer, are not this story’s author. Respectful does mean not blasting your critique partner out of the chair with the feeling that what they have written is trash. But respectful, in a critique group, means some things that are not that often addressed.
To respect your critique partner’s writing, you must:
- Give their writing your complete attention.
- Stop when you read something that feels flawed and weak.
- Analyze your reaction, looking for the reason behind your response.
- Put time into clearly explaining the problem you have found.
- Make constructive suggestions for ways the author could improve the passage.
In other words, in a critique group, respect means not just valuing your critique partners’ writing, but taking it seriously. Seriously enough to help them break it down, take it apart into pieces, and put it all back together again. As many times as needed, as many times as the author is ready and willing.
Respect does NOT mean tiptoeing across the pages that a writer has handed you, skimming the surface searching only for things to praise and maybe a comma placement or two that you can correct. Respect does not mean leaving your critique partner alone, trying to sort through their own story for what works and what doesn’t.
Can this be done with kindness? With support and encouragement? Of course it can. It takes the same amount of time and energy to critique as it does to criticize. Yes. They’re different words. Very different.
By now, you can tell I’ve got a soapbox here. Maybe that’s why I’m getting the chance to write this book. You think? 🙂