January 31, 2006

Reaction to critiquing

I can't think of a good comparison for criticizing other's work. Sometimes the experience is easy because you know what needs fixed, others it is kind of messy because you are afraid you are stepping on someone's creative toes, and others, well, it downright sucks because you aren't really sure if you are missing some valuable component of the story, which could result in personal embarrassment. The embarassment is suposed to be for the person being critiqued, right? Right? :-D

Now, with a short story for Publication Workshop in hand, I reflect on these possible outcomes of critiquing, and in particular, your peers' work. It doesn't really matter if you critique someone dead or across an ocean or somewhere far away that doesn't have Internet access (ha!ha!). When that person is someone you know and interact with on a daily basis, that critique can go, I've discovered, two, no, maybe three ways.

1. They take the criticism and run with it, trying new things and fixing up the negative aspects that you found, and enjoying your comments about the positive work they've shown.
2. The crap can hit the fan, and the person will take it badly, believing that they are, in your eyes, worthless writers bent on the destruction of the literary world, and you are the only person who has ever told them so--damn you. Simply put, they believe that the person is bad, not the product.

When I critique, I rarely ever find everything all bad. A real writer, and editor, for that matter, can work with practically anything.
3. The critique gets through and changes are made, but the writer doubts their ability for a while. (I often fall into this category.) With so many people that will look over my work, I will probably doubt my abilities often, but I'm reminded that I am in a place to be critiqued. Not everyone gets feedback from writers with similar abilities. It's great to be critiqued, really. It helps you in the long run. It helps you in the long run. I should keep telling myself that...It isn't pretty when the crap hits the fan anyway.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at January 31, 2006 11:03 AM | TrackBack

What a great post. Empathy.

You'll probably hear me say this in Publication Workshop over and over again, but I think writer's workshops (and critique sessions) often teach us not how writer's should write, but how readers actually read and respond to the written word. Going through them (surviving the workshops) helps us predict how readers will respond to our work in the future, because we start to hear those critics' voices in our heads.

Posted by: Mike Arnzen at January 31, 2006 9:03 PM

In high school, I once critiqued a friend's poem by doing a word-find in it -- circling words like "dry" or "wad" or other things that helped the point I wanted to make.

That friend is now a pediatric neurosurgeon, so maybe she can tell me what the hell I was thinking when I did that.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at January 31, 2006 10:57 PM
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