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Why It's Important To Critique (1 Viewer)

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TheMightyAz

Mentor
When you write, you inevitably read what you've written over and over again, until eventually you'll add rhythm and fluency where these is none. It's hard to step right back from your work in progress, which is why a week in the drawer before the final passes is recommended often. You're just too close to judge it objectively.

By critiquing other people's work, you can switch that objectivity on easily. You don't know their deeper intentions so view the text more coldly, more logically. Often, they'll make the same mistakes you're making but no longer see. That's the value of critique. Not only do you get to learn from the people you critique, in terms of rhythm, fluency, word choice, grammatical structure, you get to see your own mistakes framed clearly.

You would be surprised how many of those 'hidden' mistakes you suddenly start picking up on when returning to your own work. It's as if that subjective veil has been reset, allowing the objective self to see what you've written for what it is.
 

Bloggsworth

WF Veterans
I have often said on this site, that putting your work in a drawer for a few weeks is a good technique as it allows a modicum of "the fresh eye" on your own work. Occasionally I leave work for a while then try to rewrite it from memory, often finding that forgotten sentences and phrases should not have been there in the first place. One of my 12 line poems went through 79 iterations before I thought I had it right... though I'm still not certain. Recently I made minor adjustments to a poem I wrote 21 years ago!
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
By taking things apart, examining the pieces, and reassembling them, we learn how things function. It is an (inter)active process. We become conscious writers. Critique is one of the best teaching, (learning) tools available.

It is an odd thing. A week ago, I spent 45 minutes going through a piece and critiquing it. When I returned to my own piece, I immediately found three mistakes in the second paragraph that I hadn't seen before on the dozens and dozens of read-throughs.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
Yes, because we don't simply go good/bad or like/hate, we then analyse what it is about the piece that we don't like, and that then helps us with our own writing because we have a greater understanding.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Yes, because we don't simply go good/bad or like/hate, we then analyse what it is about the piece that we don't like, and that then helps us with our own writing because we have a greater understanding.

Absolutely. I'd also advise new writers to keep their stories short (2 - 3 pages) to begin with. The quicker they produce content for critique, the quicker they can bring what they've learned to the next project ... and so on. They'll also get more reads and more critiques if they're short. It's a win win.
 

Ralph Rotten

Staff member
Mentor
I don't do the classic "write then edit" route anymore.
By the time I do my first full read thru, I have already read and edited the thing multiple times.

For my book length fiction I write the first 100 pages, until I really know the characters, then I doubleback to the beginning and apply that knowledge where the characters are thinnest. (They are thin at the beginning because you just met them.)
After that I tend to doubleback every 100 pages or so. The purpose is to not only ensure that I am on the proper story trajectory, but to refresh the pace of the story in my mind. When you are writing, your suffer from a form of time dilation. Think of it; it takes weeks to write a chapter that the reader finishes in an hour or less. So as the writer you may feel like you covered a tremendous amount of ground in those last 100 pages, when in fact you have simply finished another chapter.

But when I get done, my characters are tight, and the story is exactly what I was aiming for.
However, this is an advanced way of writing and may not suit all new writers.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I don't do the classic "write then edit" route anymore.
By the time I do my first full read thru, I have already read and edited the thing multiple times.

For my book length fiction I write the first 100 pages, until I really know the characters, then I doubleback to the beginning and apply that knowledge where the characters are thinnest. (They are thin at the beginning because you just met them.)
After that I tend to doubleback every 100 pages or so. The purpose is to not only ensure that I am on the proper story trajectory, but to refresh the pace of the story in my mind. When you are writing, your suffer from a form of time dilation. Think of it; it takes weeks to write a chapter that the reader finishes in an hour or less. So as the writer you may feel like you covered a tremendous amount of ground in those last 100 pages, when in fact you have simply finished another chapter.

But when I get done, my characters are tight, and the story is exactly what I was aiming for.
However, this is an advanced way of writing and may not suit all new writers.

This is actually how I write too, to the letter, but I've not cracked the novel yet. I've now got three unfinished novels, all of them out of control with complexity I had no need to add. I was planning on forgetting the 'edit as you go' method, but I think I'm stuck with it. I just can't move on until the paragraph I'm working on is at least half decent or the word I'm looking for is pretty close to what I wanted.
 

LadySilence

Senior Member
I divide the criticisms into 2.
1) There are constructive criticisms.
2) There are destructive criticisms, born only to insult.


Constructive criticism is always well accepted, it helps to grow, as a writer, and as a person.


I have received a lot of criticism, both constructive and destructive.
I have never made any criticisms. I don't know where to start.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I divide the criticisms into 2.
1) There are constructive criticisms.
2) There are destructive criticisms, born only to insult.


Constructive criticism is always well accepted, it helps to grow, as a writer, and as a person.


I have received a lot of criticism, both constructive and destructive.
I have never made any criticisms. I don't know where to start.

There are also destructive criticisms that aren't designed to insult. You have to be honest with yourself and recognise where you sit on the 'hierarchy' (for want of a better word) If you don't, then often you'll end up making matters worse. You've also got to be aware of what you're trying to achieve. Even if someone with a much better grasp of writing than yourself gives you advise on restructuring, and even if that advise it great, if it in any way interferes with what you're trying to achieve, it could be detrimental to take that advise. In that instance, you've got to try and figure out why what you intended didn't work rather than simply change it in line with the advise. It's not always easy because you're the beginner and the person critiquing isn't.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
The man stands on a sideline, his hands cast into his pockets.

On the field a referee blows the whistle, all over for one more weekend, the end of the match. Thank God, everybody sags at the kneecaps, except for the coach, of course, he is mad.

A little boy runs to that man with hands in pockets, 'How was I, Daddy?' he says, 'Did I play good..?' The man responds with analysis. 'Tackle around the knees, ferocity, ferocity, kill, kill all Hamptonians...'

...a tear trickles down the cheek of the tiny child.


Worst parenting ever. I should have said 'you were amazing, you were brilliant, you are the best, let's get an ice-cream.'

I feel that way about crit [sometimes]. Encourage people, make them feel good about themselves, agree with the author about everything. Suggest a long future as an independent writer, highlight the most cost-effective vanity publisher. Organise production team for the book opening ceremony filmed in the lounge. Invite to subscription websites, market day course entitled 'boost my sales.'
 

LadySilence

Senior Member
I received criticism that destroyed one of my stories. They were truly destructive.
Criticisms were enlightened me. Thanks to them, I improved a lot, and I changed my way of writing improving day by day.
These are constructive criticisms for me. And I was happy to receive it.


When I talk about insults, I mean bad words. I received criticism with profanity, and vulgar insults. Spoken with arrogance. This no, I do not accept it. If a person insults, with malice and arrogance.


Kindness always. It is my motto.


I don't like to criticize others, because I put personal taste at the basis of my thinking.
A text may like it, or you may not like it.


I know, this thought of mine is wrong.
 

Phil Istine

WF Veterans
I remember getting my balls chewed a couple of times on here a few years ago. Apparently, I misunderstood the intention of some poems. It put me off critiquing for a while, but I rebounded eventually.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
As was alluded to, there is an art to critique.

Criticism:
1. the act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.

2. the act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding.

Too often people issue the later which is destructive, rather than the former which can be constructive.

I teach martial arts. If I were to criticize a white-belt (beginner) harshly on his front-kick, he's likely to quit training. Learning is a process, no one ever gets it right when they start. Teaching, like critique, is an art to itself. First I praise the white-belt on what he is doing right, then I pick one or two aspects of his form and show him how to improve. The student comes away feeling encouraged, eager to work on the improvements I suggested, and knowing that there is a long road ahead but if they work hard they will attain their black-belt.

I also believe that those that critique have to step away from their personal preferences. If the piece is written in first person POV, and I don't like that POV, I shouldn't rail on the writer for not writing in the third person.

A large aspect of the martial arts is learning how to defend oneself. I usually teach people to keep their techniques low (no kicks to the head), keep their response simple but savage, and do the minimum necessary to escape the situation.

A long time ago I had a student that loved doing jump spin hook kicks. This is a technique where you jump straight up, spin 360 degrees, then slam your heel in your opponent's head. It's used a lot in tournament fights, but on the street I like having my feet on the ground. So, I kept telling this young man to not use that kick in a life or death situation.

Well, one night after class, I received a phone call after midnight. It was the young man I spoke of, he was sobbing, but I heard another voice in the background saying, "You did good kid." Of course, I went down to the scene to aid my student.

The police and paramedics were there. According to the police, when my student was leaving a pizza place a man was walking in pulling a pistol out of his coat. Guess what technique he instinctively used: Yup, jump spin hook kick. The kick hit the would-be robber and according to the paramedic it reduced the robber's jaw and cheek bone to 'gravel'.

After that, I never criticized my student's choice of technique.

Just as it is with writing, as long as the job gets done, how we get there doesn't much matter.

If you're going to critique someone's work, first give positive reinforcement, then pick a few things for them to work on. You want them to continue writing, not feel discouraged and give up.

Just my opinion.
 

JJBuchholz

Senior Member
I don't do the classic "write then edit" route anymore.
By the time I do my first full read thru, I have already read and edited the thing multiple times.

I edit after every scene written, instead of waiting until the end of the project. I find that I have more desire to edit properly
if I do it on a per-scene basis. Leaving editing right until after the story was completed only made me angry at the amount
of editing necessary, and I cut corners.

Darkkin; said:
By taking things apart, examining the pieces, and reassembling them, we learn how things function. It is an (inter)active process. We become conscious writers. Critique is one of the best teaching, (learning) tools available.

Concur, and I also believe that we sometimes avoid critiquing others' work because of the failings of our own work. Every
writer should engage in critiquing, and swap constructive criticism with fellow writers.

-JJB
 

JBF

Staff member
Board Moderator
You need two things for a good crit.

First, you need a writer with a sense of where they're going. This is akin to flying in the sense that the writer must have a concrete idea of what they're doing and what they hope to accomplish. If you stop flying the airplane it'll take you someplace, sure, and that place won't be where you intended. Ideally, you can accept an outside view of your work while still understanding and holding to the roots of the thing.

This requires a degree of confidence not always present with beginners; I tried to help one once who'd put together a story that was rough but salvageable. After some private discussions I learned this was a story they'd been wanting to write since they were a kid. They didn't have any real aspirations on being published, necessarily. This was just something to leave behind to say they'd done, and it was important to be as polished and solid as could be managed. Me and a couple of others changed our suggestions based on their intent. They weren't quite there - though admittedly they were a far better grade of amateur - when another critter came at their first three or four pages with a chainsaw.

Long story short, everything sucked. Everything was wrong. If there was a particular way to screw up, our burgeoning writer compounded it twice and set it on fire and danced on the ashes. Dishonored the ancestors. Brought on the fall of the republic. Crashed the value of the dollar.

And just like that, our fledgling author folded. Under the assumption that sharper criticism somehow held more value they burned the whole thing down to the waterline and started from scratch. What re-emerged a few weeks later was an entirely different work. Different voice, different style...total mismatch for the content and the author's aims. Almost nothing of the original or its intent remained.

Two interesting results: the critter who'd sacked the original story raised enough bad blood across the group (this wasn't an isolated thing) that they were gone by the time the rewrite came around, and the three or four or us who'd try to shepherd our would-be writer found we couldn't reach them anymore. For whatever reason they wouldn't take positive responses as any kind of valuable. They wanted highly destructive criticism on an idea that really didn't rate it and had no patience for any other. One by one we gave up, and before long they faded out of the picture.

That's one concern from the writing side. It has a near-match from the crit side with a critter, however well-meaning, who just doesn't get the story.

Which is fine. Not everybody's going to like everything. I've closed out half-written crits before when I realized that it wasn't working for me, and that I'd be wasting the writer's time at best and derailing them at worst.

From my own experience, I've had a surprising amount of people who see that my main story has military elements and takes place in South America in the '80s and balk at the fact that I'm writing the long-range character development rather than a shoot-em-up. To them, the setting, the era, and the violence are wasted focusing on how environment and circumstance bear on an individual rather than how many faceless narco-commie bodies he can stack while screwing a procession of equally faceless third-world beauty queens.

I get complaints that he's not much of a hero. He's not. He's a guy doing a job because he's gotta eat, hoping it gets him somewhere better. The heroic moments - when they happen - usually come with a hefty price tag. You learn more in the silence than then the gunfights. He's more Jimmy Stewart than John Wayne.

So I've had to adjust my panel of critters over the years. A lot.

The most valuable critters I've had are the ones who don't just like the story - they get it. They've lived parts of it. They know the people I'm writing about. One of the best I ever got told me that my MC scared her because she'd come out of similar circumstances and he was a whole parade's worth of red flags - and she was rooting for him all the way because she wanted to see things come around for him. Her investment was hoping he got out, which came from knowing too many who didn't.

That one piece of feedback has been worth more than most line-by and SPAG I've gotten over the years. By far.

Long story short...good amateur writing is tough to find. So is good critting. Both are gold. Neither come easy.
 
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Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
I received criticism that destroyed one of my stories. They were truly destructive.
Criticisms were enlightened me. Thanks to them, I improved a lot, and I changed my way of writing improving day by day.
These are constructive criticisms for me. And I was happy to receive it.


When I talk about insults, I mean bad words. I received criticism with profanity, and vulgar insults. Spoken with arrogance. This no, I do not accept it. If a person insults, with malice and arrogance.


Kindness always. It is my motto.


I don't like to criticize others, because I put personal taste at the basis of my thinking.
A text may like it, or you may not like it.


I know, this thought of mine is wrong.

I think you are mixing criticism with critique. It is very difficult to differentiate exactly, but this is how I see it.

Basically criticism is the presentation of a personal opinion, critique is an attempt to present an objective opinion. With criticism they are simply telling you how it affected them, and to a large extent that has come to mean in a negative way, "He is very critical" has come to mean he only has bad things to say, though as you say people do make positive criticisms, "I found this a wonderful, uplifting read". A critique is more about pointing out ways that the writing may be improved. That may involve pointing out errors in the writing "This part is a list where sometimes you use commas and sometimes 'and' " but should then suggest how it might be improved, "better to use commas consistently, unless you are trying for a particular effect by using 'and' consistently, consistency is usually best"

Compare that to "You have 'and' and commas all mixed up, unreadable!". That's critical.

It is partly difficult because this is a comparatively new area of language that is still evolving, fifty years ago I don't think I ever heard the word 'critique'.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Another thing I'll like to add: Consider the effort people have put in to critique your work, especially those that have taken the entire body of work and gone through it carefully and meticulously. Regardless, it doesn't matter the amount of effort, but rather the effort itself. It doesn't even matter if you disagree or agree either.

Give a like/thank and comment on their effort. If you want to get more critiques in the future, the best way of making sure you DON'T get them is to not acknowledge the effort.
 

Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
As you point out so well, Ollie, in many well-meaning critiquers there is often a mixing of "criticism" (personal opinion) and "critique" (objective opinion). With personal opinion there's often the problem if I don't like this story, this genre, this way of writing then this story is no good for anyone else (it's a failure). With objective opinion, I might not like this story, this genre, this way of writing but few care about my personal opinion since the story can have appeal to other readers, editors. So we work with trying to help make the story stronger, get closer to its own goal.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
As you point out so well, Ollie, in many well-meaning critiquers there is often a mixing of "criticism" (personal opinion) and "critique" (objective opinion). With personal opinion there's often the problem if I don't like this story, this genre, this way of writing then this story is no good for anyone else (it's a failure). With objective opinion, I might not like this story, this genre, this way of writing but few care about my personal opinion since the story can have appeal to other readers, editors. So we work with trying to help make the story stronger, get closer to its own goal.

I honestly very rarely consider the story at all when I critique. In fact, much of the time I'll only take a slice of it. I'm more interested in helping with presentation, grammar (when I'm capable), tone, pacing, word choice, style, bad habits ... those sorts of things. The nuts and bolts that can be transferred to other projects.

That way it doesn't matter whether I like the story or the style. I can still be interested in it.
 
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