On Critiques (Part I)

On giving:

There are times when a person should not give a critique. Before morning coffee has been consumed is one of those times, not that I drink coffee. I’m just saying that if the cat coughed up a hair ball at your feet, the dog marked your new sofa, the kids were up all night with the flu and the dry cleaners called to tell you your husband’s favorite suit was ruined and you didn’t purchase the two year mishap plan, so tough luck, is probably not the best time to give a critique.

Those misplaced modifiers, not that I completely understand what those are, no longer deserve a nice little comment that all will be well if only you add a word here and a word there. Instead they are treated as if the sky is falling and chicken little is doomed to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders until his little beak can no longer peck another kernel.

I  had one of those days not too long ago. Unable to do anything else productive, I decided to critique. Not a good thing. About two pages in I realized that there may not be a problem with the manuscript I was going over and more likely a problem with my attitude. No, seriously, I can have a bad attitude on the occasion. So to save my poor unsuspecting critique partner from heartache and my reputation–the last person I want anyone to compare me to is the Wicked Witch of the East–I closed the file and walked away.

With fifteen or so critique partners, all varying in different writing levels, there’s bound to be a chapter or two that just needs some serious work. Not that that makes the writer a bad writer. They could just be having an off day, or maybe the scene isn’t being executed to the fullness of its potential. Then there are going to be chapters that are so perfect it makes you want to pull out your hair. Trust me, I work hard to try and find something a writer can improve on. I feel like I’m not doing my job if I don’t.

Either way, I need to be as honest and kind as possible when giving my critique. This holds true when judging contests.

You don’t know how many times I’ve heard contest entrants want to quit writing because one judge was overly cruel in their criticism. I had one judge inform me that she knew nothing about the category she was judging but that my entry did not belong there. That wasn’t a cruel comment. It was made more out of her lack of knowledge, but there were many comments throughout the entry that were cruel. She would have saved herself a lot of work if she would have just said, “you can’t write, you have no talent, don’t give up your day job”. Even though she didn’t say those exact words that is how they came off. BUT let me tell you, I’ve heard of some judges actually saying comments like those. For those of us who have been writing for a while these kinds of comments, although they sting, tend to roll right off our backs. For newbies, it’s like pouring salt into a wound.

So, when you are critiquing or judging, try to use tact, be kind and above all pray before giving your critique. After all, we are here to help each other along our writing journey, not tear each other down.

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