In my last blog, “The Importance of Critique Groups,” I discussed the importance of critique groups and how much they have helped me. If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, scroll down and take a look!
Critique groups are important but they can be a waste of time or damaging to your self-esteem/writing if the people in the group don’t know how to provide critique and you don’t know how to receive critique. Here are some skills I had to learn over the years about giving and receiving critique.
When giving critique, break it down into “What Works,” “What Needs Work,” and “Overall Summary” of your critique. This way you give equal importance to the things that you like about the piece and the things that you think could be improved.
When giving critique, talk to the person by beginning your thoughts with “what I really like about this essay is...but I feel that if you tried …. it would make things more clear/interesting/funny/etc.” This way you are always beginning with something positive and the person being critiqued doesn’t feel like you are attacking them and gets defensive.
When giving critique, be as open-minded as possible. When offering your perspective on things, try to see it from the writer’s perspective as well so that they know you are taking the time to understand what they are trying to do. This is especially important for memoir because the topics can be very personal to the writer. Again, do not make them feel like you are attacking their life and their writing.
When giving critique be honest. Don’t lie to the person because you feel bad for them or are too scared to hurt their feelings. You will not help them become better writers by lying to them. On the other hand, there are ways to be honest without hurting people’s feelings. Learn them.
When giving critique, be honest but don’t be judgement. There is a difference. Keep your personal opinions to yourself unless you are offering them in a positive/constructive way to help them grow as writers. This is especially true for memoir because people are baring all the intimate details of their lives to you. Do not judge them by how they have lived their lives. Judge only their writing and help them improve instead of tearing them down.
When receiving critique, remember, this is not a critique of you as a person, it just a critique of your writing. Don’t take everything personally. Your critique group members are trying to help you get better at writing.
When receiving critique, don’t be defensive. One of the techniques we practiced on critique days in my classes was that the person being critiqued is not allowed to say anything while they are being critiqued. Once everyone in the group is done offering their critique, they have the chance to clarify and explain themselves. I really liked this technique because it forced me to just shut up and listen to what people are saying instead of getting defensive and thinking about ways to refute what was said. Getting defensive is a waste of time and energy. You don’t have to prove anything to the people in your group. They are not writing your story.
When receiving critique, know which critiques to keep and which to let go of. After you have quietly listened to everyone’s critique and taken notes, let the ideas float in your head for a few hours or a day or two before you actually begin revising the essay. When you have had time to mull over things, you might find that some critiques were more helpful than others so you keep some and drop the rest. After all, they are just opinions.
When receiving critique, always take notes. I know this sounds obvious but I have seen so many people not take notes during critiques. There is no way you are going to remember everything everyone said. Also, when you write things down, you can go back to them later with a cool head and find inspiration in them.
When receiving critique, make sure your critique group is a positive learning environment. It is difficult to find critique groups where you get the perfect balance of constructive criticism and encouragement. Make the effort to find such a group. You don’t want a group where everyone is too nice and afraid of hurting your feelings because that won’t help you become a better writer. However, you don’t want a group where everyone is just tearing you down to make themselves feel better about their writing. Take the time to find a critique group that builds you up as a strong and confident writer.
These are skills I developed over the years after a lot of practice and they have made me a better critique group member and a better writer/editor. I hope you found this information helpful.
Please share your critique group experiences (good and bad) and wisdom with me in the comments. I am always open to learning more critiquing skills!
Also, please share resources where others reading this blog can find good critique groups.
Thank you to all of you who continue to read my blogs every Wednesday and share your wisdom and experiences with me in the comments. I’m glad you find these useful!
Next Wednesday’s blog will be about how to be bold in your memoir writing.
Happy Writing! :)
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