Thursday, March 10, 2011

Writing Critiques Comes with Perks


(Or, why critiquing is like cupcakes.)
My blog readers have already suggested so many critique-writing blog topics, but I’d like to start with the benefits I've found in critiquing. And I don’t mean for the writer being critiqued. Oh, no. I mean the benefits for (me) the developing writer providing the critiques, because the perks are real and they’re writerly life-changing. Psh, it's not just the reciprocal reviews I speak of (although, that’s absolutely frosting whipped up so pretty on top of the double-chocolate cupcake of perks). Here are a few other bonuses that have snuck up on me during my writer-critiquer journey.
1.   Recognizing my own weaknesses: I don’t know how many times I started to comment on another writer’s work, and then forehead-palmed with this realization: I had the same writing tic. Repeated words used, er, repeatedly. Telling not showing. Choppiness. Clichés. When you’re too close to your writing, it’s easier to see certain things through someone else’s work--a fundamental truth that goes beyond the writing world. But once the tics click (tongue twister) in your mind, you can go back and strengthen your own projects. And then you’re pastry—I mean, writing—is that much closer to being agent-ready.

2.   Discovering other techniques: Sure, you can discover effective techniques by reading published material. However, when you critique, you’re in a zone. As you find something that unexpectedly works, you are more likely to delve into it to let the writer know why the passage was so successful. And then, bam. You’ve acquired a tool you can use in your own writing.

3.   Exchanging perspectives: Reviewing a writer’s work whose style is different (e.g., genre, voice, pacing) is challenging, but critical in broadening your writing universe. It doesn’t end at the horizon of your computer screen or your WiP. Finding a critique partner whose mind works a bit askance from your own is eye-opening. Just as you bring a different personality in critiquing their work, they will to yours, seeing your project from angles you didn’t know existed. It’s a gorgeous, hand-crafted sprinkly on top of the cupcake kind-of-thing.

4.   Understanding the flip-side: It’s head-bangingly hard to come up with clear and positive ways of providing feedback that makes a valid point while explaining why it didn’t work for you, as a reader/critiquer. The more you critique, the more you understand how painstaking this process is, and in turn, you appreciate the gift that your critique partners give you. How closely they’re paying attention to your style. How many times they've read each revision. How they catch things that improve your work tenfold. How invested they’ve become in your characters. In fact, you may need to name a few characters after them. Just sayin.

5.   Finding amazing partnerships: We all know how difficult the road is to published writing success, and how many times your cupcake is returned to you with a “no thanks, I prefer cookies,” message. From that incredible, dream agent/editor. And the rejection sends you into darkness and misery. Who is it that picks you up from the pit of despair? It is your network of critique partners who know of your incredible efforts and who knew your cupcake while it was just a cup of flour in the bowl. And they’ll remind you how exquisite it is now. Krista wrote about her personal experience with this here.


Let me know some of the other benefits you’ve found while critiquing other writers. More blog topics are always welcome. And then, off with you crazy cupcake-yielding youngsters. Go critique something already.

11 comments:

Girl Friday said...

Great post! Am off to do some critting... :)

Marybk said...

Thanks, Girl Friday. :)

Krisz said...

I love the cupcake thing and the picture. But as much as I am a chocolate addict, cupcakes are not my favorite. But I love everything you wrote about critiquing. So true. I've learned a lot by pointing out flaws and good things in others' work. I am just soooo blessed to have the world's most wonderful crit partner(s). Do you know her? She is a great writer. ;)

Krisz said...

Oh, one more thing. Great critiquing is a fine art. You have to have the ability or gift, I might say, of knowing just how much is too much or too little. To be able to give an honest opinion without destroying the writer's self-esteem. It's not easy. Everyone is different, so your critique style should be different as well. It's almost like teaching children. Some need more aggressive tools and some need a more gentle touch. The trick is to find what works for each without causing major damage first.

Marybk said...

Hi Krisz - Awww, blush. Backatcha.

And I totally agree with the fine art of critique analogy (you're so good with the analogies). Thanks for the comments.

P.S. I will try for more chocolate next time.

Krista V. said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Marybk! And number one is so, so true. Most often, the problems I see in other people's manuscripts are the things my subconscious has been trying to get me to fix in my own.

Marybk said...

Krista, it was such a perfect example. Thanks for stopping by.

rosehips said...

Mary, is that a hint with the character name thingy? Because I wasn't going to name Felsen after you, even though "Mary" means "bitter," but now that you mention it...

Marybk said...

No hints, rosehips. Of course, Kaley means pure meadow (Katherine + Lee). Just something to mull over.

Anita said...

Awesome post! One of the best things about learning to crit other people's work is that it teaches you to crit your own, too.

BTW, I made the jump to Blogger, so I'm following you now. :-)

Marybk said...

Anita, great to see you here, and you're so, so right.

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