Thursday, September 28, 2006


I enjoy critiquing other people's writing. I like to think of myself as an up and coming editor --ha-- But anyway, it came to my attention the other day that not all critters are alike. There was this group I was in years ago that thought a good critique is where you "criticize" every other word! Their goal, and they don't mind admitting this, is to chase you away as a potential competitor in the publishing arena. Nice friends. No, I'm not with that group any more. The next group I joined was the exact opposite. These nice ladies are sooooo nice. Too nice. How am I supposed to improve my work if no one tells me what's wrong with it? Hint--if you're not getting published, maybe it's time to find a new critique group.

And I did find the perfect crit group. They tell me when I need to beef up certain sections that I breezed by too quickly. And they're nice enough to tell me when certain sections are definitely good ones.

What is it, specifically, that makes a good critter? Well, if you want good crits on your own work, you need to give good crits to other people in exchange [that's how the system works--join a group and everyone exchanges manuscripts]. A "Good" crit doesn't necessarily mean every comment you make is sugar candy. No. "Good" means "usable." Now this is difficult for some people to get into. Yes, it's okay to write on the paper. No, it is not okay to rewrite every sentence. If you think every sentence needs rewriting, then hand the manuscript back and say, "You need to rewrite every sentence because...." Maybe that person really is a terrible writer. [Direct that person to the nearest Creative Writing Workshop.] Maybe you just don't like that person's style. Style is very important to a writer. You keep yours, let the other person have his/her own style. The goal of being a "good" critter is not to change the other person's style, but to improve the style that person chooses to use. Read the story and really get into it. ONLY make comments on what would make that story and writing better. Sometimes I just put a smiley face in the margin, which means "Good Job!" Writers need a balance between positive and negative reinforcement in order to grow into Authors!

We need each other. And I'm very glad I found such a great group!


Blogger Constance said...

Excellent advice, KC!
This "The goal of being a "good" critter is not to change the other person's style, but to improve the style that person chooses to use." is the problem I have in my bimonthly group. They always want to change people's work so it is more 'understandable' or 'easier to read' without grasping the point you make.

Any suggestions on how to teach people how to critique? Step by step directions? :)

1:05 PM  
Blogger KC Heath said...

ooohf! don't know, really. I do all of this by feel. Someone did tell me, however, that if there isn't at least one person in your group that is a better writer than you, and you want to improve, then get out of the group because it's wasting your time. That's why I'm no longer in a local group. Mmm, "How to teach people How to critique?" Guess that would take constant guidance, like how you teach a dog not to do something "bad"--you have to catch them in the act. Of course, dogs love you even when you scold. In that Too Sweet group I was talking about, a couple of us made comments to another writer--the same comments we've been making for years--and instead of "getting the point" she dropped the group with extremely hurt feelings that shot rude and unappropriate comments back our direction. So, take what works, I'd say, and just ignore the rest?

1:55 PM  

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