I could surely write volumes about the value of working with a trusted critique group--especially mine! But because I know we’re all busy, I’m going to limit myself to a few suggestions.
- Don’t underestimate the benefit of having extra sets of eyes looking over your work. In every writing group and workshop I’ve been part of, each member focuses on a different aspect of a manuscript. While one sees big picture issues such as plot, another asks whether a character would actually behave that way, and another looks at vocabulary, rhythm, or rhyme. Each group member brings a different perspective and a different set of expectations. Take advantage of all those points of view!
- My students often ask how to know what to include in a critique of another writer’s work. I tell them to trust their instincts. When you read through a manuscript the first time, notice the places where something grabs your attention. Underline those spots, whether you admire the language, you don’t understand something, or you don’t even know exactly why the words caught your eye. Then go back and focus on those spots to figure out what stood out and why.
- Whether you are critiquing or being critiqued, be specific. When your work is in the spotlight, let others know what you are looking for: big picture issues for an early draft or fine-tuning suggestions for a nearly finished manuscript. When you critique someone else’s work, praise what you find well crafted and be tactful about what doesn’t work for you. If you are unsure of something, ask questions about the writer’s intentions.
JoAnn Early Macken