Friday, May 12, 2006

The Other Side of Critique

by W. L. Elliott

We all know the rules for critiquing other authors’ work; be honest, be thorough, and be kind. For some reason, people who have no problem with those rules have the worst time with the rules for the other half of the equation. And so, in the interest of equal opportunity, here are the rules for graciously accepting a critique.

Rules for the Critiqu-ee.

1. If someone points out something they disagree with, do not explain why it should be that way. There is one simple reason for this—you won’t get a chance to explain to your readers what you really meant. If you’re writing doesn’t make it clear, then you have failed in your attempt and the critiquer was correct to point it out to you. Bite your tongue and fix the problem.

2. Grammatical errors and typos are not negotiable—they are either correct or they are not. Content and style, however, are entirely subjective. Remember it is only opinion. Just because someone thinks one thing about a certain passage is no guarantee that any other person in the world will see it the same way. In fiction, your writing is your world, figuratively speaking, and yours to do with what you please—to a certain extent, at least. However, before you use this as a loophole, keep in mind that if several people tell you that paragraph 352 stinks, it’s generally a pretty good idea to revise said paragraph. If only one critique mentions it, then you can feel fairly safe invoking the ‘That’s your opinion’ clause.

3. Under no circumstances may you tell your critiquer to “sod off”, “go fly a kite”, or “take a long walk off a short pier”! A simple “thank you” will suffice, whether you like the critique or not. Then you can go home and rip all the pillows in the house to shreds. Or eat a bag of chocolate. Or hide in a corner and pout. Or all of the above, not necessarily in that order.

But sooner or later, there’s one thing you’re going to have to remember. You asked for it!

So now you got it. What you do with it, whether it gets put to good use or thrown in the pouty corner with all the shredded pillows, is entirely up to you.

4. Use it! Every point given deserves at least an obligatory look. Whether you ultimately decide to adjust or leave alone based on the critique, this is your golden opportunity to see your work through the eyes of a real, live reader. There is no book on writing that can give you that, no matter how complete and concise they are about the writing craft.

And you can bet, if you do buy a book on writing, that—long before it hit the shelf—that author had to accept a critique or two, just like you.


Anonymous said...

Good advice. There's nothing worse than having a writer argue with you about the errors in their writing. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and they don't have to change their manuscript just because of your opinion, but they should at least give what you say some condsideration.

Anonymous said...

Ok, go ahead and tell me I've got a typo in that last comment. I'd be glad to follow your advice and change it accordingly, but there's no way to edit comments!:-)