Thursday, April 26, 2012

Are You an Avid Reader? Then You're a Critiquer.

It seems we have a theme on the Alley around here...taking in Mary's post from yesterday and Pepper's post from Monday and you've got a tutorial on writing those all-important first lines and finding the right help to make them stronger.

Recently I attended a chat at the My Book Therapy ning center (fabulous place if you haven't looked it up) about critiquing and critique partners. One of the gals attending the chat asked: when do I know I'm ready to critique someone else's work? 

My fingers were just itching to post a response to her question, but I held back in respect for the speaker. ;-)

My response (had I given it?): "Are you a reader?"

Seriously. Are you a reader?

If you're a reader, thus you can critique.

Let me explain, because I have an addendum to that statement: are you an avid reader? If you pretty much dream, eat and sleep and forget-to-make-dinner reading, then most likely you'll make a pretty good critique partner.

That is point #1. If you can do this top one, you can critique.  Yes, it's really as simple as that.

My awesome CP Andrea Nell, 2011 Frasier winner
& 2012 Genesis Semi-Finalist
Point #2. Can you articulate your thoughts? Can you spot a mistake in a manuscript and give the author a bit of advice on how to fix it? The comment "I don't like this..." or "this doesn't work for me..." gives your CP (critique partner) nothing to go on. When something doesn't work for you, take a moment and think about why it doesn't work. Compare it to another book that you possibly didn't like and then give your CP a constructive comment on what does/doesn't work. You don't always have to understand, or completely pinpoint WHY something doesn't work for you...don't worry, this will come with time and experience.

Want to be an even better critique partner?

Read on the industry. You should be doing this for your own personal benefit as well, but it will spill over into your CP's needs. Study craft books, read professional websites and learn.

Point #3. Okay, be a reader, be a study-er. If you are both of these, you're getting better and better all the time!

So you read. You're writing a novel (doesn't always need to be a prerequisite. My grandmother is an awesome critter and she doesn't write. ;-). You're able to share your thoughts coherently. And you are reading up on the industry.

Point #4....are you currently editing your own work? Most likely if you're searching for a CP, you're already writing. If you are editing your own work, this gives you an editor's eye. You're already in the mindset of making things better.

We've got a road map, we know where to go from here and you just might very well be great CP material.

Roadmap overview:
Read and read lots. Be critical of your read and why you like it. Or don't.
Keep writing and editing.
Study the industry.
Don't let fear of not being "good enough" stop you.

One word of advice to new CP's: Don't be intimidated. You have something to offer. Follow the roadmap and you'll help someone.

Be humble.

Don't critique as though you know it all. (no one really does)

Be kind.

Be courteous and realize you are learning on another author. They get it. They understand and guess might have advice they need to hear.

Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

Don't let your "lack of experience" stop you from critiquing. It's not a matter of who is better than so-and-so. Or whether your skill set matches the other. You might have an eye that picks up on something your CP had never thought of. And if you continue to stand on the sidelines "until your ready", you'll never get up and dance.

Joining a critique relationship should not be as complicated as we make it. It seems that way, it takes time to build trust, but it's not a if-I-don't-breathe-right-my-CP-will-dump-me formula.

Remember: we can all learn from each other. No matter what level we are at.

What's your best CP advice?


Ginger Solomon said...

Be honest, but do it kindly. Remember that feelings/sincerity/love do not come through typed words. What sounds docile to you could ignite a spark of indignation in someone else.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Casey. You shared a lot of great suggestions today. With my experience with a CP, I've found that finding and pointing out the strengths as well as areas that can be improved, and offering constructive suggestion for improvement have been the most helpful for me. I've not had a lot of experience with critiquing, but I'm keeping your post in mind for when I do more of this. :)

Lindsay Harrel said...

I'm an editor by day, so I think I'll be a good critiquer for a CP. The challenge is always to let the writer keep her voice. You wouldn't want to change something to sound like YOU would write it. You want to let her know if something doesn't make sense, etc., but keeping voice intact is definitely a primary goal.

Casey said...

GINGER, one of the best pieces of advice I heard was treat your editing like an oreo: positive, a bit of negative, end with positive. Good 'vice! :)

JEANNE, that is also how I like to crit. Pointing out what needs to be fixed, but also being more than generous in what is being done right. :)

LINDSAY, and because you're aware of that, you'll do a good job. You'll be aware that you don' want to change their voice and crit accordingly. Hope you find the right crit partner! :)

Anonymous said...

Also, take the task seriously. Don't just skim. To give advice you really need to understand the piece.

Pepper said...

Wonderful tips, Case.
I absolutely LOVE critting! Besides it being an excellent way to give-back, it's also a great way to develop your own skills as a writer. I learn so much about how to improve my own writing by not only reading great books, but critting great manuscripts!