In the talks I’m giving this month, I’m getting down to some basics about digging into a critique. I’m trying to give new critiquers some tools to get started with confidence and encourage critiquers who have been doing this for a while to stretch themselves.
And the first thing I’m telling people is to listen to themselves.
When you sit down to critique someone’s manuscript, the first thing you’re doing is reading. Okay, that may sound too basic, but this is where it all starts. You’re turning pages, you’re taking in the words, and you’re responding.
Let me say that last one again…You Are Responding.
When we start critiquing, we’re not always so sure we’ve got anything intelligent to say. Maybe nothing unintelligent, either! We read the manuscript, mention a few inconsistencies and commas, then pass the pages back with a smile and the comment that we “like it.”
The odds are, though, that we’ve read some pages, passages, or paragraphs that we didn’t actually like all that much. And we’ve ignored those bits. Maybe not intentionally; maybe we didn’t even notice that we had a bad feeling. We did, though, feel it.
As a critiquer, the first thing you have to do is pay attention to those feelings, to the emotional responses you’re having to your critique partner’s manuscript. You need to register when you’re feeling bored, or distracted, or irritated, or confused. And when you get one of those feelings, or any other response that pulls you out of that book, you need to STOP. Do not keep reading, do not turn more pages, do not collect $200.
Your responses mean something.
Figuring out what they need is another step, another blog post. Today, I want to remind you to pay attention to your feelings, your reactions. You are not just a writer; you are a reader. How old are you? How many years…decades…have you been reading books, talking about them, sharing out loud what you did and didn’t like about them. I’ll say it for you–a long time!
You have experience. You have skills. You are good at this. Yes, you may–as I said above–need to stretch yourself, push yourself past your critical-thinking comfort zone and dig more deeply into why. But don’t ever discount the responses you’re having as you read.
They’re real, and they’re important. Listen.