What’s the value of a critique whether individually or in a group?
I flew solo for a few years when I began writing. My critiques were from friends. One was a Ph.D. English professor who was a creative writer. Another was a advanced reader who held a doctorate. The second one was a voracious reader of philosophy, science fiction, and religious works. He has read more than almost anyone I know. I had a few others, but they mostly read one or two things then didn’t volunteer to read more.
My two favorite readers shared the same flaw when it came to my writing: they were both ‘soft’ in their critiques. The English professor offered the toughest critiques, but he stopped short of giving a full evaluation. He would say when he wanted to analyze no further, ‘Other than that, there are a few mechanical problems.’ The mechanical problems he skipped were the types of problems that kept editors from publishing me.
The other reader was so kind, he couldn’t bring himself to offer sharp criticism.
Here’s the rub. Without good feedback, I continued to have the same problems. Since I didn’t know they were problems, I didn’t correct them. I would write a story, my friends would vet it as ‘beautiful fiction,’ and no one would publish it. The short of this story is that unless your friends are professional writers, you can miss the step of having your friends read your work and save a lot of your time.
After a few years, I connected with a critique group. The people in this group are nice friendly people, and they don’t shy away from pointing out critical errors that would keep me from being published. They have backgrounds that including being published and what editors are looking for.
The most frequent criticisms I received were:
“You are too wordy; you need to tighten this up.”
“You are changing POV’s too often – head hopping.”
“How could the character who’s POV you are using know that?”
“This sentence should have a comma, no comma, a semicolon, no semicolon, no period goes here, but a question mark, there should be no question mark, you left off quotes, etc.
Any one of these problems would be enough to cause a publisher to reject my work. (I have my rejection notices hanging on a shelf right above where I write.) By listening to critiques of my work along with critiques of others, I began to analyze my work until the frequency of negative evaluations dropped.
About six months after of attending the critique group, I went to a party sponsored by one of the members. I heard the most published author, who had missed the last meeting, ask one of the other published authors about who had read and how their works were.
She answered by mentioning my name and saying, “He has improved significantly.” Even though the comment wasn’t meant for me, it made me feel as if I was progressing in my writing.
As for being published, I sent a manuscript to a ‘real’ editor who agreed to read it. She sent me back comments on almost every page with corrections. I had to start over at a new level.
I understand that some writers get hurt feelings by critiques. I even know one who refuses to have his work critiqued because his feelings were hurt by an editor. I look forward to an excellent review. How else can I grow?