Hop Off the Critique Wrecking Ball
By Kelly Carey
Why do we call our writing groups “critique groups”?
Merriam-Webster defines critique as “an act of criticizing” and notes that the origins of the word refer “generally to criticism” or a “remark or comment that expresses disapproval".
Is this the lens through which I want my writing partners to review my drafts? Is this the mindset I should bring when considering the work my fellow writers present to me?
Lately, I've been skewing more negative in my feedback. I’m taking that word critique too much to heart and letting it be the guiding principle when I structure comments.
My approach starts with the idea that the reviewer is giving me their work because something needs to be fixed. It’s a fair assumption. The work is unpublished. Agents and/or editors haven’t snapped it up yet – so clearly something is wrong.
With the gusto of Bob the Builder and a frenzied HGTV fix-it zeal, I attack the manuscript.
But, I need to hop off the critique wrecking ball (although Miley does make it look fun), put away the hammer, and unplug the power saw.
What are we really asking when we share a manuscript with a group of writing peers?
The answer is less about hunting for “criticism” and more about looking for feedback and suggestions to move the manuscript forward on its path. I want a reviewer to help me find those things in my manuscript that a reader will love. Tell me what I should do more of and help me unleash the unique power of my own creative voice.
This is not to say that I want you to go soft on me or my manuscript. I want to know what is not working, but your first step should be to build from what is working. As my writing partner Annie Romano suggests, “folks reach for the hatchet to chop up a story when they should be reaching for the chisel to shape and transform it”.
Recommendations on how to improve a manuscript shouldn't deviate so far from the original work that they move the writer off their path. A writer hiking along on a mountain path shouldn’t be left swimming in the middle of the ocean. The idea is to encourage and support the writer's original vision, not derail it.
You have probably found yourself on more than one occasion reading a successfully published and positively reviewed book and thought, “this stinks” – what if you did that to the draft before the author got published? And the work never got submitted, or sold, or turned into a book that although may not resonate with you is in fact enjoyed by a multitude of other readers. Do you really want that on your head? That is not your job when a peer asks for feedback on a manuscript.
Your task is not to leave a fellow writer feeling less enthused and less able to hear their own voice. But, that is exactly what can happen if we are too clued into that word critique.
Let’s trade critique for feedback, review, or progress. Take off the Bob the Builder construction hat and grab a megaphone and a pom-pom instead. Cheer loud when you hear a writer’s voice and see a writer’s creativity.
Approach manuscripts with a build it up mindset rather than a tear it down attitude.
After all, it’s a work in progress. Make sure you are helping it progress!
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