Improving Your Critique

I’ve spent the last week-and-a-half or so critiquing a friend’s ms. It’s a sf story that deals with what are basically superheroes—called Changelings in his setting. I won’t go any further than that because it’s not my story and it’s not published. And the plot isn’t the point of this post anyway (though I don’t mind giving it a shameless plug).

The point is that I’ve spent quite a while feeling like I wasn’t doing much good in my writing group. I mean, I’ve been bringing stuff to read, but my own comments and critiques haven’t felt all that insightful to me.

Now I think I know why.

Sometimes, when you’re in a group setting, you tend to let others do the work for you. It’s not always intentional—I know it wasn’t on my part—but the end results are the same: you’re not contributing as well as you can. Part of it is group dynamics. In the case of my writing group, the fact there are so many others there with valid opinions makes me think maybe mine isn’t so important.

But if I take the time to look around, to really see what’s going on, it shouldn’t be too hard to realize one thing: we all have something unique to offer. Sure, maybe we’ll all zero in on the more obvious flaws in a fellow writer’s work, even if that flaw is only a typo. But there are other observations that are unique to each personality, and that includes me.

I’ve had comments on my own stories that were things I doubt I’d have thought of in a million years—and yet they were probably obvious to whoever made the comment. They’re unique comments not necessarily shared by the group. I won’t say I’ve always agreed with them—you can’t please all the people all the time—but I’ve rarely rejected any of them out of hand.

But when someone hands you a copy of their story and you’re sitting there at the computer by yourself, you’ve got no one to rely on to make the observations you should be making yourself. It’s all on you, even if you know they’ve handed copies to other people. You’re not sitting in a group with those other people. You don’t know what they’re going to see and what they’re not. Sure, to a small extent you might bypass some problem because you figure they’ll point it out as well. But on the whole, you know you’ve got to pull your own weight so you’re not wasting your time, at the very least.

This is something I discovered anew while critiquing my friend’s ms. It’s been some time since I’ve critiqued on an individual basis—and I’d have to say that pretty much all those other occasions have been my daughter’s work—and I’d forgotten how to do it, I guess. Or, at least, let other members of the writers group pull the load for me. Most of my thinking was just as I stated: with all these people here (and so many of them published, and very good writers to boot), what could I possibly have to offer?

Well, a lot, it turns out.

And I don’t mean that in an egotistical way. I just mean that I have a unique viewpoint and believe that, by this stage in my writing journey, I have some experience to offer as well. Some knowledge of how things are.

So if you’re in a group and feel the same way—whatever the reason—try going back and either critiquing one of your old works, or find someone who’ll let you go through their ms. Like, me, I think you’ll relearn how to do this thing and help someone else out—and yourself in the process.



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