Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Power Of A Critique

For some of you this post may look familiar. But for those who didn't follow the Critique Sisters in our prior incarnation, I felt this post was important enough to post here. 

Depending upon how it's worded, a critique can lift an author up and show them a better way or it can destroy their confidence and make them question their ability. If you've ever been part of a critique group you've probably experienced one or the other, maybe even both. To improve you must be able to take criticism but there is good criticism and there is bad. You need to be able to identify which kind of criticism you're receiving so you know how to process it.

Destructive criticism is that which points out the problem in a manner that demeans or dismisses the work or author. You can still learn from this type of criticism but it's difficult. Destructive criticism makes a writer feel defensive. If you're faced with this type say very little and take notes so you can look back over them later when you aren't under fire. Clarifying questions are fine but don't defend your work, you don't need to. You have nothing to prove to this person and you might feel different after you cool down and read what they said.

Good criticism isn't a contradiction of terms no matter how much it sounds like it, it is constructive criticism. Think of it this way. If you see a problem and just point it out that isn't very constructive. But if you see a problem, point it out, and offer a solution that is constructive. However, this can still come across as harsh. It's all in the delivery. The best way to start with any criticism is to point out what you liked, or what does work. Once you've done this the writer is more open to receiving criticism because they aren't on the defensive. Then you can point out what didn't work or make sense and suggest a solution that might help.

Destroy, or empower, which will you do?



  1. Well said, Heather. My greatest growth spurts as a writer have come from compassionate, focused critiques. We need them! And we REALLY have to get over ourselves when it comes to hearing what needs to be heard--when we're on the receiving end, that's OUR half of the responsibility for a good critique.

  2. Learning how to critique is really almost like an art form. It can be really hard though to listen to destructive critiques.
    I think sometimes writers feel that must only give "bad" critiques in fear of "over-praising" but there is a way to give constructive criticism with about being negative.

    It's a learning process (or at least I would like to think this is the main reasons some writers give destructive critiques).

    1. It is for sure. And so true, listening to critiques can be incredibly hard, even when they're constructive. A learning process indeed, well said!

  3. From my experience and what other people have said, it seems like it's a trend now to ONLY point out what a critiquer didn't like, instead of also mentioning what s/he did like. Instead of mentioning s/he liked how the writer uses language, interesting characters or situations, an intriguing setup, etc., they only focus in on what they didn't like. I even had one critiquer who took issue with how I type in Palatino instead of that boring, tiny, generic, eye-bleeding Times New Roman!

  4. Heather, this is great. If we could have a school on how to critique we would all be better. You've given me a GREAT idea for next weeks post. :)