Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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The art of the critique

At Kill Zone Blog, this, from PJ Parrish:

The Fine Art Of Giving Out Criticism

It took me a long time to learn that doling out criticism is a learned skill. All writers need honesty but it has to come with a healthy side order of kindness. …

Parrish then lists these seven considerations:

  • Resist the urge to fix the problem. 
  • Watch your tone. 
  • Don’t take out your frustrations on someone else. 
  • Don’t boost your own ego. 
  • Let the person react. 
  • Be empathetic. 
  • Don’t focus on the person.

With, of course, plenty of comments under each point. Now, as far as I’m concerned, (2), (3), and (6) are all pretty much the same thing. “Watch your tone,” and “Don’t take out your frustrations” and “Be empathetic” are all basically versions of “be nice.” Come to think of it, maybe “Let the person react” falls into this same category as well.

Besides that, “Don’t boost yourself” and “Don’t focus on the person” both could be subsumed into “Keep your focus on the work.”

So really, three rules:

a) Resist the urge to fix the problem.

b) Be nice.

c) Keep your focus on the specific work at hand.

This short list seems pretty good to me. From time to time I have, very cautiously, suggested possible solutions, but I agree this is fraught. Generally it is probably better to say, “I feel that this section slows down too much” rather than suggest ways to speed it up; or “It seems to me that this story opens in a ‘white room;’ I have no real sense of place here” rather than suggesting ways to establish the setting.

I like participating in workshops, from time to time, but I do think they’re hard. I’m not likely to ever join a critique group because I put way more time into reading and re-reading a workshop entry, and working up a critique, than I would ever want to put into a regular activity.

How about you all? Has anybody participated regularly in a critique group, and if so, how did it work out?

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