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Tips for Critiquing Other Writers’ Work   2 comments

(Taken in full from the website: “Writing Forward”) <http://www.writingforward.com/writing-tips/tips-for-critiquing-other-writers-work&gt;

Posted by  on March 29, 2012 ·

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of “Writing Forward” , a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.

writing tips critiques

Tips for providing helpful critiques to other writers.

As a writer, you have to be thick-skinned.

Professional writing is a highly competitive and saturated field where criticism is omnipresent for two important reasons:

1) It’s the most efficient way for writers to increase their skills, and

2) Written work is often positioned to receive much criticism upon publication.

And guess what? Everyone’s a critic — because everyone has an opinion. Anyone can read a piece of writing and opine that it is good or bad, weak or strong, or that it succeeded or failed.

There’s a definite art to providing well constructed and thoughtful criticism, which is designed to help a writer improve, and that recognizes the fine line between personal preference and quality of the writing.

Your writing will only improve if you can graciously accept a critique and that’s exactly why you should know how to critique someone else’s writing as well. The tips below explain how to provide critiques that are helpful and respectful. If you can apply these tips to the critiques you give, then you’ll better position yourself to receive helpful and respectful critiques in return.

Don’t Crash the Party

Generally, it’s bad form to sound off on a writer’s work unless you are invited to do so. There are a few writers who can’t handle feedback, and often these are the ones who won’t ask for it. Chances are, they’re just going to defend their work to the bitter end, so your feedback will be little more than a waste of time. Other writers will openly declare that feedback is always welcome. It is here that you should focus your efforts, assuming your goal as a critic is to help people, and not to make them feel inferior or feeble. However, your best bet is to simply limit your critiques to those writers who personally ask you for feedback. This will usually be a trade, in which you swap critiques, an arrangement that should be mutually beneficial.

R.S.V.P. with Care

Some writers ask for feedback, but what they really want to hear is how great they are. These are the narcissistic types who write more for their own ego than for the sake of the craft itself. It takes a little intuition to figure out which writers really want you to weed out all the flaws in their work and which are just looking for praise. If your critique partner asks specific questions, you should answer, but try to avoid back-and-forth arguments and getting into a position where you are defending your critique or where the writer is defending his or her work. Exchanges like these are a sign that this is not a beneficial or positive critique relationship.

Bring Something to the Party

If you’re giving a critique, whether in a writer’s group, a workshop, online, or with a friend, you should take the time to really read a piece before you construct your feedback. Read every line carefully and make notes, mark it up as you go, and then jot down your thoughts when you’ve finished reading. If time and the length of the piece allow, give it a second reading, because that’s often where things really click or stick out. There’s nothing worse than receiving half-baked feedback. It’s blatantly obvious when someone hasn’t put sincere effort into a critique, and it renders the critique useless.

Devour the Food, Not the Hostess

Whatever you do or say during your critique, your feedback should be directed at the writing, not the writer. Don’t start your comments with the word “you” — ever. Always refer to the piece, the sentence, the paragraph, the prose, or the narrative. You are judging the work, not the individual who produced it, and though compliments aimed at the writer might be well received, there’s a subtle but significant difference between pointing out flaws in the piece versus the person.

Let the Good Times Roll

When you are giving a critique, always start by emphasizing the good. This is the cardinal rule of effective critiquing, and I cannot emphasize this enough: always start by telling the writer what works and where the strengths lie. By doing this, you’re kicking things off on a positive note. Also, it’s much easier for a writer to hear where they have failed after they hear where they’ve succeeded.

Here are two examples to illustrate this point:

1. The language is effective, with strong, colorful images. I can really see this in my mind quite vividly. However, some of the wording sounds cliché, so one way to make this even stronger would be to come up with alternatives to the more commonly used phrases, like…

2. Well, there are a lot of clichés. You should have tried to use more original word choices. But your imagery is good; I can visualize what the piece is communicating.

The first example is an appropriate critique whereas the second is both unprofessional and inconsiderate. It’s much easier to let a little air out of an inflated balloon than to blow up a deflated one. It’s especially easier on the person who is on the receiving end of your feedback.

Try to Have Fun Even if it’s Not Your Scene

Some people hate stories written in first person, but that doesn’t make a piece written in first person bad, it just makes it less appealing to the person who is turned off by it. Know the difference between your own personal preferences in terms of writing styles and try to separate these from your critiques. You can also issue a disclaimer letting the writer know that some of the elements in his or her work are not to your personal taste. If the entire style or genre is outside of your taste, then you may be doing the writer a favor by declining to critique or by recommending someone who would be a better match.

Help Clean up the Mess

Eventually, you’ll have to tell the writer where the piece falls short. Do this with grace. Avoid using strong negative language. Don’t repeatedly say things like “this is weak,” “you’re using the wrong words,” or “it’s boring.” Instead, use positive language and phrase your comments as suggestions for improvement:

  • This word is vague. A stronger word would be…
  • A better word choice would be…
  • This could be more compelling or exciting if…

Remember, you’re there to help, not to hurt. If someone appreciates your opinion enough to ask for it, then provide it a manner that is conductive to learning and supportive of the writer’s efforts to improve. Whenever possible, offer concrete suggestions. If you spot a weak word, try to offer a stronger replacement word.

Nurse the Hangover

There’s a good chance that no matter how gentle you are, your writer friend will feel a bit downtrodden after hearing that their piece still needs a lot of work. Many writers are tempted at this point to give up on a piece, while very few will be motivated and inspired by the feedback.

After you’ve given a critique, check back with the writer and ask how the piece is coming along. Inquire as to whether your comments were helpful, and offer to read the piece again after it’s revised.

Learning How to Critique

Constructive criticism involves a little compassion. If someone cares enough about their work to show it around and invite feedback, then it’s probably something in which they are emotionally invested. If you are the person they feel is qualified to provide that feedback, then embrace the invitation as an honor, and approach it with respect.

It can be awkward at first — after all, who wants to be the bearer of bad news (and almost every critique contains at least a little bad news)? After you do a few critiques, you’ll get the hang of it and it will become natural and easy. Just keep these basic tips on how to critique in mind:

  • Don’t provide a critique unless you’ve been invited to do so.
  • Use good judgment and don’t waste time on writers who are looking to boost their egos.
  • Take time and make an effort so you can offer a critique that is thoughtful and helpful; otherwise, just politely decline.
  • Critique the writing, not the writer.
  • Always start with the strengths, then address the weaknesses and problem areas using positive language.
  • Be objective, especially if the piece you’re critiquing is not in a style or genre that you prefer.
  • Make solid suggestions for improvement. Don’t be vague.
  • Follow up with the writer to offer support and encouragement.
  • Be patient with yourself as you learn how to critique effectively.

Do you have any tips to add? Have you ever struggled with providing critiques to other writers? Has the critique process helped you improve your own writing? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep on writing.

Great article, I had to share.

 

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Writing Advice: the Good, the Bad and the Useful!   4 comments

Line art representation of a Quill

Line art representation of a Quill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writing exercise 3

Writing exercise 3 (Photo credit: aaipodpics)

One thing I hate to see is bad advice given. One particular bit of “bad advice” I keep reading about is, “If you want to become a better writer, all you need to do is write, write, write. The more you write, the better writer you will become.” That is like telling someone who wants to become a carpenter, “All you need to do is grab a hammer and some nails and build, build, build. Then after, hmm let’s say a really long time, maybe you will create something worth sitting on, living in, or whatever.”

I have better advice. “Learn HOW to write first!

  • Take CLASSES on writing
  • READ books on writing and successful authors in the genre(s) that interest you
  •  AND THEN write, write, write, after you have learned how to first

Next on the list is to join a CRITIQUE GROUP, that is if you are REALLY interested in becoming a writer that others want to read!

Manic Mode! “Self-Publishing in Free Fall” Part Two   2 comments

My journey as a writer began when my two younger sisters and I would would lie awake in our bunk beds. While they listened, I made up stories resembling fairy tales to tell them. Later, in high school, I wrote free verse poetry, inspired by pop/rock songs such as Neal Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and “Make it With You” by David Gates of the pop-rock bandBread. The stories and poetry I created took little more than imagination and heart to construct. Which is important, but…

A secret that I share when asked about my personal journey as a writer is that from elementary to high schoolgrammar was not an easy subject for me. I struggled constantly with simple things such as sentence structure and proper spelling. To this day, commas still drive me crazy. So, before venturing into the terrifying, wonderful world of self-publishing, I had first to learn the “rules” of writing, whether nonfiction or fiction was the desired outcome. To create compelling fiction, I would need a strong understanding of story structure, character, plot, scene, action, and dialogue.

There are scores of books on writing technique lining the shelves of my bookcase. At one time, I had so many that I loaded up the beginner books and gave them away to the local library and my weekly writers’ group. Over the years, I have taken correspondence writing course, attended writer‘s conferences, as well as taking literature and writing courses in college. I still study and listen to authors that I admire teach me the tricks of the trade. All the while, I continue to write and hone my skills. I know if I want to sell my writing, I must first become a skilled writer.

Determination and the willingness to make my dreams come true have proved powerful tools for me. That coupled with hours upon hours of writing and rewriting to get the desired results. To remind myself of what it takes to write well, I think about how to create a beautiful, livable house. Only a skilled architecture will do to draw up the plans. After that, I would trust only experienced carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and other craftsmen to build it. It is the same when it comes to creating sellable writing.

 Continued…

Writing Prompt: Day Six   1 comment

What may be called wood collage is the dominan...
Wood Collage

Collage: Write What You See

Study the collage on this page. Relax and focus so that you take in the colors as well as the composition. Now write whatever comes to mind. Don’t stop to think or edit. Try to fill at least one double-spaced page before you stop. Keep writing past one page if the urge to do so is there.

Now put the page away. Don’t look at it for a week. After that, take it out and read it over. See if there is anything that jumps out at you. Anything that you could use to create a character or a story.

You can also do this exercise with other pictures of your choice or sensory objects. Another idea is to go to a place that has an emotional charge for you. Sit, take in the ambiance while you write the same way you did in the above exercise.

This is an excellent way to rid yourself of writer’s block.

As always, I wish you good writing and success.

Writing Prompts: Day Five   Leave a comment

English: City walls in Dubrovnik Česky: Mětskě...

Image via Wikipedia

Obstructions vs Wants

Write a scene where one character wants something and have another character represent the obstruction to that want. Make the want anything, examples of which might include love, a penny, a sister, a shirt , a job, sex, marriage, financial success, a spoon. You can try to resolve the scene or leave it unresolved so you can add to it later. Be overt about the need or be subtle about it. Make sure you use visual and sense-based details, including dialogue to reveal the conflict. (Dr. Greg Oaks)

Good writing and have fun while you learn!

Writing Prompts: Day Four   Leave a comment

Mall Daze - #31

Mall Daze - #31 (Photo credit: Patrick DB)

Rid yourself of writer’s block. Take the challenge.

Characters in Conflict

Two characters in conflict over the setting, place them indoors or outdoors, public or private, where one character wants to go and the other one wants to stay. Make sue to include dialogue and details of setting. Use small paragraphs and have a new paragraph each time there is a new speaker. (Dr. Greg Oaks)

Good writing to all who choose to take the challenge!

Writing Prompts: Day Three   1 comment

Writing

Image via Wikipedia

 Conflict with a Familiar

Write a first person scene where one character has a disagreement with a very close friend. The dialogue will be leaner and the characters will know how to read each other’s gestures and codes. The disagreement itself might be subtle and not directly stated. Make sure to include setting and character gestures. (Dr. Greg Oaks)

Good writing to all who chose to take the challenge!

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