12 November 2011

How Could You Shred My Baby? – Critiquing Writing – Part 6

Up to this point, I’ve offered insight on giving feedback to other writers about their writing. As you’ve worked to enlighten others, that same enlightenment reached within your mind to tweak your own writing. Now, others have gotten their hands on your writing. They want to return the favor.

Don’t do anything hasty.
Put down the scissors and back away from the table. We promise, we won’t harm the document.

Accepting a critique is about as difficult as giving one, if not more so. It’s not something that comes naturally to people. You’ve created something and opened it to the public for comment. Naturally, the creator feels protective of their creation. The overprotective parent complex, one might almost assume. This isn’t that far off. I offer three thoughts to consider as you receive comments on your writing.

Thought one: The person offering the critique is trying to help improve your writing. Listen to what they have to say.

This is a Big Important Thought here. You’ve placed the writing on the table for help. Don’t immediately start arming your defenses when the person comes back to offer their help. It will ruin the experience for all those concerned.

Your intent here should be to let the reviewer speak their piece. Make notes, either on a copy of the manuscript or a blank piece of paper. If they’re good, you’ll find both praise and encouragement woven through comments about uneven storylines, plot holes, and flat characters. Some of their comments might pull your ponytail or twist your gut. That happens. Hold your tongue until they finish explaining their reason. You might find that they offer a valid point after all.

It's not good to go into a critique expecting to defend your choices. It brings the ugly out of a writer. Listen to the opinions. Take the comments in context with the story you’ve had reviewed. Consider what the person offers. Remember that all they offer is opinions and you’re not obligated to use any of them.

Thought Two: The target of their comments is the writing, not the writer

With a good partner analyzing your writing, their entire desire points to improving the writing before them. As an extreme example, they may have a personal vendetta against the writer, but a good reviewer ignores personal feelings and focuses just on the written word. A person who writes a critique but can’t separate the writing from the writer actually is not a good person to write the critique. If you know a person has difficulty with such separation, simply don’t ask for their help.

Family and friends might find it difficult to point out problems, because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. They won’t be much help either.

When receiving a critique, know that some people search for mistakes. It makes them feel better. They want to swing hammers at the support beams. These beams are the story’s beams, not yours. That type of critique wants to make sure your story survives the harshest of editors. When they’re finished, it should. However, that also assumes you take at least a part of their advice.

Thought Three: Ask for clarifications if you don’t understand what they mean, but don’t argue with their comments.

For some reviewer’s comments, it might not offer enough help for you to consider the error that they felt that they found. Never be afraid to ask for clarification of a comment. Sometimes, the reviewer may not have the ability to elaborate. It’s the impression within their minds that just doesn’t fit. Perhaps what you thought a key turn of phrase doesn’t work with their experiences, but they can’t figure out a way to phrase it. Keep note of it, as it might be an area that you changed and the sentence doesn’t fit the new section but is a perfectly good sentence. I’ll touch on this more in a moment.

Under the same concept, don’t immediately jump at their comments and try to defend against what they tell you. What they give you comes from their experience and their way of looking at the story. Their experiences will color the story differently to your colors. If you found a subject matter expert, or SME, they could point to a piece of story that just ain’t right. (Yes, that I did on purpose.) Don’t argue what your research told you against what the expert tells you. The expert tends to win those arguments, because they have better research for their field.

I have had times when the comment about the change is vague. “This feels wrong,” they said. It didn’t help my edit. When I received it, I asked the person to clarify what they meant. It turned out my unusual phrasing didn’t work within the context of the story to their mind. With that clarification, I found it easier to rework the piece for better wording. I got the additional information without challenging the reviewer and we both got a better experience from it.

With this being American Football season, I’ll close with a football analogy. A critique is a hand-off of the ball to you, the runner/writer. Your objective is to weave between the defense/obstacles and get to the final goal – being published

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