How many times have we all thought that we'd never, ever say some of the things our mothers said? Next thing you know, you are the parent and those same words slide over your tongue and out your mouth to someone else. When that happens, I sometimes want to bite my tongue. Other times, I suddenly know why my mom said this or that.
One of the standard comments my mother made started this way: Just a bit of constructive criticism. And then she'd be off and running letting me know what I'd done wrong and how I might correct it.
I remind myself of her good method of correcting me. She let me know that what she was going to say was to help me do something better than I'd done. The keyword, of course, is constructive. Criticism can be rather harsh if we're not careful. Adding that keyword softens the blow a bit and it also teaches us a little something, as well.
All this leads me to discussing critiquing a fellow writer's work. If you've belonged to a writer's group of any kind--face to face, online or email message--you've most likely given critiques to other writers and received some yourself.
When you critique another writer's work:
- do so only when asked
- give your overall impression first, then do a line by line within the text
- start with the positives
- end with something positive, too
- remember you are critiquing the writing, not the writer
- be honest and fair but do so with kindness
- when you do a line by line critique, mark the things you like as well as those that need work
- point out areas of repetition
- do not attempt to do a total rewrite for the writer
- include punctuation and grammar corrections where needed
- in your opening remarks, let the writer know if whole areas might be cut or expanded upon
- remind the writer that your critique is one person's opinion
When you receive a critique:
- remember to thank the person who did this favor for you (even if you don't like what was said)
- adopt the attitude that the critique is meant to help you grow as a writer
- adopt the attitude that the critique is meant to help you polish your piece before submitting
- if you don't like what you received, set it aside for a few days, then read it again
- remind yourself that any criticism is meant to be constructive, not destroy you
- resolve to revise and edit using the suggestions the critiquer gave
- be aware that, if you disagree with part of the critique, you are in charge and do not need to change it
Beginning writers tend to look for those 'atta girl' critiques when they first get brave enough to submit their writing to the eyes of another writer. That's natural. We all like praise but if we've agreed to have our work critiqued, we need to be able to take the bad along with the good. Darned few of us, whether beginners or seasoned writers, write a perfect piece even though we've done more than one draft. Other eyes see what our own often miss. That is exactly the reason we need to have someone else look at our work. That goes for poetry as well as prose.
Long before I became a writer, my mom taught me the benefit of constructive criticism. There were times I resented those lessons just like you might resent parts of the critiques you'll receive. Even so, I knew in my heart that my mom was trying to help me learn something and doing it in a kind way.