Thursday, October 28, 2010

Critique vs. Criticism

I'm deep in revisions at the moment, so please allow me to offer you a re-post from my blog of my take on critiques:

Look up 'critique' and you'll see such words as evaluation and assessment. Look up 'criticism' and you'll see disparagement and disapproval.

As new writers, we eventually find it necessary to offer up our work for critique. This isn't the same thing as asking friends and family to read your book. Your family will love it no matter what. Your friends may like it. If they don't, they'll merely tell you they were too busy to read it. Maybe they were too busy. Maybe they couldn't choke it down because your writing wasn't up to par.

The truth is, you're not getting an honest critique of your work. If you jump the gun and start querying and sending partials willy-nilly into the publishing world, there's a good chance you'll be disappointed by the results. Rejections will likely pour in with the regularity of an electric bill. Maybe you'll give up, convinced that you suck. Or maybe you'll realize that there are people out there who can really help.

So, you join a writers' group or forum. You get tips on making your work better. You discover flaws like passive voice, showing not telling, info dump and wooden dialogue.

Maybe a critique is particularly harsh, and you instantly take it personally. Perhaps you lash back, telling everybody you know that the critiquer is mean. If that's the case, you have a lot to learn about the critiquing process. Resist the urge to diss the critiquer. Don't flounce off in a huff because your brilliant prose didn't blow the socks off everyone who read it. The people who think they're helping you are not necessarily professionals, and not all of them know how to assess another writer's work with an objective eye.

Take each comment, positive or negative, and store them in a safe place. Take some time to cool off and look at the comments again.

Some will be inconsequential, like: "I thought that joke was in poor taste and I don't think you should use it." So what if the reader didn't like the joke? A thousand others will. Disregard.

Some will sting: "Using excessive 'there was' is the sign of an amateur". Okay, that could have been worded differently, so take it in its intended context -- omit excessive 'there was'.

Some will be extremely unhelpful: "This sucks. You can't write." Or: "I didn't like the plot." Ignore these people and move on.

Most will be helpful, and eventually their advice will percolate into your psyche if the same tips are given again and again.

Above all, whether you agree or disagree, take the time to thank your critiquer.

Sandra Cormier is the author of Bad Ice, a hockey suspense novel.


Big Mike said...

Good one, Sandra. One bit of advice I frequently offer to whatabee authors is that when they do find a valuable team to critique, never explain why they didn't get it. Just take their inputs and say "thank you" because you won't be there to explain it to the reader either.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year, (2008 and 2009)

AstonWest said...

One tip I would add, if at all possible: Get in with a critique group made up of writers who are either at the same place as you are on the writing experience scale, or are at the place you want to be some day. If someone is looking to break into a major publisher, one likely won't get a lot of help from someone who's paid a vanity press to take their last four novels...just as an example.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

Yes, it's helpful to have critique partners who are in the same ballpark as you. It might be frustrating for a newbie writer to try to muster something besides glowing words when critiquing a skilled writer's work - how do they know what to look for?

And equally frustrating for a writer who has been around the block a few times to get inane comments from someone who has yet to master the basic fundamentals of writing.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

It's true about explaining, Mike. When I started traipsing around the blogosphere looking for comments on my writing, I felt the need to explain on blog comment posts. Got blasted for that once and I didn't understand why.

Of course, you said it in a much gentler way than that other guy...