Over the past few months, my critique group has been focusing on how we give and receive critiques. As we have been together for a a few years (some of the members have known one another even longer) we could be open and honest about the fact that we might have fallen short of our potential as critique-givers.
One of the things we have agreed to try, is to ask the person who submits just what type of critique she is hoping for. This has helped guide our discussions so we are not all going at 5 different directions. While it could become restrictive in that a critiquer may not bring up a glaring problem just because the writer didn't ask for it, I am happy to report that it hasn't happened. The group is experienced enough that important issues are brought up, whether or not the writer is aware of them.
For example, in my last submission, I asked my group to focus on two issues--character differentiation between the two main protagonists and the relationship between a character and her father--but as the critique chat progressed, it was clear that two other issues were more pressing--authorial intrusion and unnecessary descriptions--and we were able to discuss those as well.
Over at The Literary Lab today, Domey Malasarn is doing an experiment by offering to critique three samples in one manner, and three other samples in a different manner.
It is interesting to me that most of the readers opted to receive what Domey calls his Tiger Mother critique. (I really hate to give this more publicity but there you are.)
My take? Regular readers there "know" Domey enough to know that his critique, no matter how critical, will never be malicious, and will be truthful and helpful.
His experiment so far has made me think about what most writers need. And here is my conclusion. We need feedback from someone who is:
- Capable and experienced, so that the areas brought up are in fact worthwhile and not some unimportant side issues or the issue-du-jour of a novice.
- Truthful and willing to bring light to something that the writer may feel insecure about. Glossing over a problem because the writer is known to love his _______ merely helps the writer cover up blind spots.
- Kind, with the intention to help rather than to use this as an opportunity to show off or to subtly put someone else in her place.
What do you think?