By: Rick Daley
Writing a novel is a lonely task. Sure, our characters keep us company, but after numerous readings and revisions they transform into red-headed step-children and we want them to leave us alone. That’s when it’s time to ship them off to boarding school, where they are subject to the critiques of our friends and family. Not all of them graduate.
As writers, we yearn for feedback. Aside from the chosen few who produce flawless prose on the first draft (and can’t ever fathom why the query for their masterpiece was rejected by those ungrateful agents), we understand that hearing the honest opinions of readers is crucial to perfecting our work. However, opening our souls to criticism can be daunting…
Giving a Critique
I recommend the sandwich approach, where you start with a positive point, give an honest opinion of what doesn’t work for you (may be multiple points), and then end with another positive point or words of encouragement. I’ve found that the sandwich approach helps put recipients at ease (especially if they are hungry). It makes people more receptive to constructive criticism and keeps them from getting overly defensive. If you are taking the time to provide the feedback, you should want the person to actually do something with it.
Be careful if you re-write something as an example, especially in a query critique. A short clause or sentence is one thing, but if you start re-writing paragraphs you are providing more than advice – you are providing voice.
What Not to Do When Giving a Critique
– Don’t be overly apologetic or you will undermine your own opinions.
– Don’t hunt for things just because you feel you have to suggest something. Sometimes the work we review is really good. However…
– Don’t limit your feedback to praise just because you are afraid to hurt someone’s feelings. Paula Abdul has cornered that market.
– Don’t be a ruthless jerk. Simon Cowell has cornered that market.
Receiving a Critique
Rule # 1: Don’t pout if you hear something negative. Remember that you asked for the feedback in the first place.
Rule # 2: Wait until all the feedback is in before you seriously contemplate your changes.
Rule # 3: Seriously contemplate your changes. Take time. Work through it. You never microwave a roast. Slow cooking always turns out better. (NOTE: what’s with all the food references?)
Rule # 4: Look for common threads in the feedback and start there. The advice of the many outweighs the advice of the few.
Rule # 5: Re-write. If someone provides a re-write as an example, don’t just copy it. Try to understand why they suggested those changes. Otherwise you may dilute your own voice and you miss the opportunity to learn something.
Rule # 6: Ask for clarification if you don’t understand something. (NOTE: Please remember that this is in regard to critiques, not form rejections. Agents are not critique partners. No matter how much we want them to be.)
Rule # 7: Thank the people who took the time to offer their feedback, and pay it forward by offering a critique to someone else.