I’ve been overdosing on critiques lately…willingly. I asked for it!

RAW Critters launched in September. This is an online critique group I facilitate through the website, specifically for members of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. With two groups of 6 members and bi-weekly submissions, there has been a whole lot of critiquing going on. The submissions are so diverse and so entertaining to read. The whole RAW Critters endeavor has worked out so well. I’ve been a (pain in the butt) advocate for more online support to be available for Durham Region writers, and the WCDR has really stepped up its game, virtually speaking. One of the RAW Critters members is from Calgary! We have a long-distance relationship critique relationship going on, and it totally works.

Besides RAW Critters, I’ve been doing some random swapping of material with other writers. A chapter here, a short story there.

The WCDR now has online forums, which I moderate along with my friend and fellow board member Kevin Craig, and we added a critiquing section where excerpts and even query letter can be posted. Though there hasn’t been much activity yet, I have critiqued what’s there.

I’ve done a line-edreding-woman-1070517-mit on a writer friend’s entire manuscript in one week.

I’ve also done some editing of my own work, rereading stuff I wrote a while ago using fresh eyes. I like this part because I don’t have to be nice about my critique. I can just cut freely and call myself a no-good newbie for the lackluster parts.

I’m an addict. I know I am. I love critiquing for so many reasons, the two main ones being:

1) It makes my own writing better by giving me perspective, and allowing me to sharpen my reading-as-a-writer skills. I like seeing how far I’ve come, too, being a newbie still.

2) I like knowing what I said can help another writer up their game. I didn’t do the critiquing thing much in the first year or so I started writing, and then when I did, it was with other newbies who gave me really general comments that I had no idea what to do with anyway. I thrive when I get direct, thorough comments, so that’s what I dish out.

I think when you become a writer—at least one who works at honing their skills with the intention of getting published for something they’re proud of—you are also signing up to become a critiquer. They go hand in hand, even though you might not realize it at first. When you’re very new, you can’t find anyone but your significant other or a friend to want to read what you wrote. You spend a lot of your time trying to look for qualified people who will kick your butt and make you better (even though you really hope they’ll tell you your work is perfect as is…).

If you open yourself up to providing (free) critiques to other writers, you’re going to get a lot of interest. Add your membership to any writing circle, your participation in judging contests, etc.—and you might get so much interest that you have to start prioritizing; you might have to start saying no. I haven’t hit that point yet, but I do spend a ridiculous amount of time on other people’s stuff, which can lead me to neglect my own. I suspect I’ll have to start organizing my time soon to maintain a balance.

Here’s a funny confession–well, it’s not funny to me; it makes me cringe to think of it, but I’ll chalk it up to having been an extreme newbie:

A bit of background on me first: I started writing seriously in 2010. I wrote Chapter 1 and actually got to “The End,” at which point I took a creative writing class. I knew no other writer. (This is right around the time I did an internet search and landed on the WCDR website, but I was convinced there was no way this organization was actually in my Durham Region, so I assumed it was an American Durham Region and I didn’t give the website a second thought, until over a year later). So, after making my I’ve-only-read-one-book-in-my-whole-life friend read my first chapters (to which he actually tried his best to provide a useful critique, what a cutie), and then making my girlfriend resent me with requests to read my stuff—I wrote to my favorite author and asked her to read my manuscript! Yes, I did!

Are you guys cringing, yet? What a faux-pas. What a total newbie move. She responded to me very kindly, telling me her obligations were to her critique group. I then thought, Critique group? What is that? I also found myself thinking, It’s just one story…it wouldn’t take that long, would it? Having absolutely no idea how time-consuming critiquing can be—not to mention doing it for a newbie manuscript that is probably 98% yucky and needs seventeen rewrites before it’s worthy of a beta read.

I can’t believe I did that…

About a year later, when I took novel writing classes and joined a critique group, then started reading about the craft, joined SCBWI, etc., I realized just how much of a dumbass move I’d made. I wrote to her and apologized for my naivete.

Maybe that’s why I don’t ask for any critiques of my own work now unless I’ve done all the revising and polishing I can. I’m trying to make up for the fact that I didn’t give a second thought to asking a long-time, Little Brown Co. published, big name of an author to read my entire 90,000-word YA manuscript—a manuscript that sucked even from the first sentence, I’m happy to report, since I’ve beta’d my own work not too long ago and laughed my butt off at the presence of all the what-not-to-dos when writing fiction.

And maybe that’s also why I critique so much of other writers’ works: because I want to save them from being desperate enough to contact their #1 author and begging for a free critique!


What are your thoughts on critiquing?


8 Responses to Confessions of a Critiquing Addict

  • Connie Di Pietro-Sparacino says:

    I too enjoy critiquing. Though I’m not addicted as yourself… Says the one that hosts a weekly critique group and now belongs to another that meets biweekly. If you ever have time and feel like you need more I have two manuscripts you could look at. LOL!

  • Dale Long says:

    I originally felt entirely the opposite of you, ME. I didn’t think I was worthy or skilled enough to offer any sort of feedback. I am still not sure I am any of those.

    That said, when I do do a critique, I critique just the story, spelling and grammar I can overlook. They are easy fixes. In my mind they are cosmetic. The true skill lies in being able to tell a good story. I would much rather read a good story that had some minor grammar or spelling mistakes, than to read a mediocre story that was grammatically perfect.

    And I totally agree. Critiquing or even just listening to other people’s work makes my writing better. There are little tricks or nuances that I pick up and make my own.

    And it definitely gives a better perspective.

  • Cryssa says:

    I call my biweekly critique session “group therapy”. By working through submissions, I learn so much about writing: what works, what doesn’t work and the big question is WHY. You can’t just say, I don’t get this or this scene doesn’t work–the big question is why. The best writing discussions I’ve participated in were those around the table discussing a scene that needed something. Everyone had a different idea of what wasn’t working. Some people tried to fix the prose, others asked for more scene setting but only through discussion does the true gap emerge.
    For those out there sitting on a fence: join a critique group. Do not join a group because you think you’ll get a pat on the back and little more than “wow, that’ s good!”. Take the bit by the teeth and do something scary. Join a group where the participants will give you honest, constructive feedback.
    2nd piece of advice: listen to the constructive feedback. You don’t need to incorporate it all in your work but if a gap is identified, fix it. It may not be the fix that everyone tells you to do but if you dig down a bit, even go back a few chapters if you have to, you’ll figure out what needs to be fixed and how.
    I’m stepping down from the soap box now.

  • Sally Moore says:

    I think critiquing and being critiqued is like going to the dentist, you won’t always like it, but by god the consequences if you don’t go! All kinds of nasty things flare up that might be beyond fixing. And ultimately, if you do go, you will almost certainly enjoy seeing everyone and joking about how reluctant you are to be there. And then you feel so good when the cleaning is done and you can go back to that delicious first draft sweetness we all love, without feeling guilty.

    Okay, enough metaphor. Hope you don’t critique this! I love and hate critiquing. Like M-E, I pull no punches when I read the works of others. Or my own for that matter. But like Sue said in her Blue Pencil exercise at today’s RoundTable, there’s a lot of value in knowing the writer left the discussion eager to write again. So it’s good to mull over the strengths and find a constructive way to suggest that some things could be better.

    Every writer, advanced or beginner, needs a critiquing partner. Preferrably one better at some things than you are. Writing is a process, and more importantly, it’s at least 50% subconscious. I find when others read my work, they see things that totally resonate with me, but which I did not consciously know were there. Understanding those surprise rushes of deeper meaning helps you focus not only what needs fixing and what’s good about your writing, but what makes it great, however much work it might need to clip away the bits that are hiding that brilliance.

  • MEGirard says:

    Connie: See, I’m such as addict that I read your post and went, “Okay, could I fit this in? Hmmm…” :P I can’t believe your writing group meets weekly. You guys must really keep each other motivated to produce.

    Dale: Oh, I know my critiques were useless for a long time. I used to just do periods and commas. Typos, and weird formatting. I had no idea what critiquing was, even as I belonged to writing circles and swapped work. Then, I started paying attention when I read for pleasure, and I could suddenly understand what I was looking at. I was completely blind before, as a reader.

    Cryssa and Sally: I think the gentler, WCDR-blue-pencil-session type of critique is beneficial when you’re newer to the craft, when you need that encouragement to keep working. But very soon, you need that kick in the butt, in my opinion–at least if you want to get better and get published someday. It’s hard to find the right people to swap work and critiques with, though. You gotta try a lot of critiquers on before you figure out what works best for you.

    Thanks for reading, guys!

  • Critiquing is necessary, just as all of you have said. The problem for me has been learning how to ignore what I should and tune it to what I should. That has been the real growth part for me.

    I like what Sue said yesterday in her blue pencil demonstration at the meeting. She wants the writer to go away excited to move the story ahead with the new lights that have turned on because of the critiquing. And that’s not to say one shouldn’t be truthful about what needs fixing, it’s just a comment on how to be constructive in comments.

    I could go on forever with this subject but, like Cryssa, will step down from the podium now.

  • MEGirard says:

    That’s a great point, Elaine. When you’re very new at writing and sharing your work, it’s not easy to juggle criticism even when it’s constructive. You either want to change everything because you figure the critiquer knows best, or you don’t believe any of the feedback has merit. Obtaining feedback is always important, but the type of feedback you need changes according to the stage you’re at in your writing career. Thanks for reading!

  • Sally Moore says:

    I think we all agree….critiquing is critical, both giving and receiving, and it is important to be selective in who you ask. I had a recent experience getting feedback -no-one from WCDR!- from the wrong source. It almost derailed me. Finally I decided to ignore the comments and sent the novel to a publisher, who replied in two weeks that they wanted to read the entire manuscript. Those three chapters and the synopsis I sent had been so marked up by the aforementioned critiquer with things I just couldn’t fathom or agree with, that I was stymied how to proceed. In this case, I think this person was the wrong one to read it. The subject and writing style just did not appeal to them. Obviously, at least one publisher likes it the way I wrote it. So Elaine is right. Submitting the work to the critiquer is only the first step. Learning how to interpret and use the comments you get back is a critical part of the process.

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