Critiques: Giving and Getting

Chris Coward (on the editorial staff of The Florida Writer) has an article in the latest issue of the magazine on the subject of Critiques.  He imagines a writers group called ‘Excellence’.  He says, “Some members of Excellence were traditionally published.  Many had advanced degrees.  There was even a literary agent in the mix. It was a good group, with a single flaw, but a good group, as I said, and the meetings were wonderful . . .

. . . except to those members who bolted after a stinging, ad hominem comment.

. . . except to those who eventually drifted away, discouraged.

“What went wrong is something that can happen with any group.  The members focuses so hard on the craft of writing that they failed to cultivate the art of the critique.  Make no mistake: critiquing is an art that involves far more that having a room full of smart people reciting ‘rules’ of writing and passing judgment.

“How to get and give the moist from a critique was the topic we posed to several experienced Florida Writers Association writers group leaders.”

Alison Nissen, Leader of the Lakeland Writers Group said:

“The best way to give and to receive critiques is to remove your ego.  It’s also the most difficult thing to do.  Critiques are not about being right or wrong or how well someone is liked – that’s ego.  Instead, great critiques are about the craft of writing – about fluency and content.  When offering a critique, review the work thoroughly and avoid personal attacks.  When accepting a critique, remind yourself that someone else’s ideas are valuable.  And whatever you do, check your ego at the door.”

Dona Lee, Leader of the Manatee County Group said:

“You can’t just say, ‘I don’t like it.’  You have to know what’s wrong with it.  We make a great effort not to change a writer’s style of voice.  Suggestions are welcome, but in the end, each writer is responsible for what he or she chooses to keep or change. I have been in groups where the writer wants to defend their work.  Somehow we have gone beyond that.  No one wastes their time defending it.  They agree or they don’t.  They don’t even comment on what they will end up doing.  We suggest.”

Bria Burton, Leader of St. Petersburg Writers Group said:

“When critiquing, don’t focus on every little thing that might be wrong with a piece.  If the author hasn’t asked for specific suggestions (such as tension, voice, characterization), then you decide what needs the most work.  Let that be the focus  of your critique, and leave the rest for the time being.  Use constructive criticism in tandem with positive feedback.  All authors need positive reinforcement.”

Jamie White, Co-Leader of the Gulfstream Writers Group said:

“For me, it’s simple.  Giving the best critique possible means being honest, yet kind, in your critiques.  No one gets anything out of ‘yes man’ comments or ‘this is stupid’ comments.   You need to be open-minded and realize the the comments are what will help you make your piece that best it can be.”

The Florida Writers Association is open to writers who are not resident in Florida.  I join it for the monthly magazine and their numerous awards programs.  Residents of Florida can benefit from a wide range of meetings, and there is an annual conference.

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