Jun 28, 2008

To Critique or not to Critique

I’ve been a member of ANWA for about ten years. Off and on I have been active with the on-line critique. During that time period I’ve taken 3 different on-line writing classes 2 on screenwriting from one of the Maricopa Community Colleges and one on creating the perfect novel from Writer’s Digest Workshops. This winter I took a creative writing class at Phoenix College. Currently I’m taking another writing class about creating the Character Based Novel.
For the on-line writing classes the only critiques I received were from the excerpts I posted on the ANWA critique line and from the instructors themselves. The instructor at Phoenix college discouraged us from posting anything to any other critique group other than her class – she didn’t want us confused by conflicting advice. That instructor and the current instructor actively have each student submit something for critique each class where the whole class participates in giving feedback – but each one had a different style. Several members from that class decided to hang together and offer critiques to each other as we complete our stories we were working on. I’ve also started doing some critique individually back and forth from another individual – via e-mail. So now I’m thinking should I critique? Is my critique of other’s work worthwhile? Is the time I spend critiquing other’s work worthwhile – what does it do for my personal writing? The questions go the other way about receiving critique. Following are my thoughts about this important writing subject.
First I want to thank Marsha for forming ANWA and the different on-line support activities of ANWA. Second I want to thank Kerry Blair for inviting me to come to Daytimer’s chapter meeting and to join ANWA. Third I want to thank all the ANWA sisters who have suffered through my not-so-professional writing and have diligently spent their precious time and offered their expert advice and insight to help me improve my writing. Many of the things I learned in ANWA at conferences, in chapter meetings, at retreats and through the on-line critique before I ever paid the big bucks for classes that taught them in not near as friendly a manner.
Next I want to say that every time I critique someone’s manuscripts I learn a lot. I enjoy reading so much that reviewing their writing is a privilege. Well known and published authors have given me “sneak” previews so to say. If I’ve helped them in the slightest I am happy. By reading their writing I’ve learned to look more closely at my own, gotten ideas to use in my own novels, and learned techniques in a kind of show and tell manner. Thank you for giving me the opportunity and being willing enough to open yourself to my blundering suggestions.
As I’ve improved my writing over the last decade I’ve had some family members and friends as for critique of their writing – whether it was for applications, term papers or professional papers at work. It has boosted my self esteem that they felt my feedback was worth while enough to seek after.
My current instructor gave us 5 items she wants us to comment on in each critique.
a.) Scene setting
b.) Tone
c.) believable characters
d.) “By page 3 do you know what the story is about?” Are you re-grounded by every 3rd line.
e.) Is the story propelled forward?
Last winter’s instructor wanted us to look for flaws in point of view, problems that stopped the arc of action like too many names that start with the same letter, overuse of adverbs and adjectives, changing tense and so on. Also she wanted us to notice if the language, descriptions seemed appropriate. Could we fully envision what the writer intended or did we only have “talking head” dialogue, or lots of telling and not showing.
In all – the best benefit of receiving critique is finding out whether you were able to communicate what you intended. If readers have any questions or hesitations about your writing you have the immediate answer that you need to change something, to get the point across better or to make the writing more appropriate.
Some of the critiques I have received are more like line edits for spelling and punctuation. I admit I need help in this area. Anything my spell check doesn’t catch is likely to pass by my eyes without notice. These reviews are helpful.
So, going back to the beginning. To critique or not to critique. I’d say there is a time and season for everything – including critique. Sometimes we need to write for our own enjoyment and pleasure and don’t need or want the “stress” or involvement of critique. Other times we need the warmth and camaraderie of having a common goal with others – writing – and helping each other achieve the very best. I am so glad I have the opportunity to be myself in both giving and receiving. As we give service we also receive it. Thanks again Marsha, for your vision.


  1. As one of the people who has been most helped by your insightful, thorough critiques I must say: DON'T STOP! I doubt I'd have had several novels published without you!

  2. When I'm writing for myself, thoughts and ideas flow from my mind through my fingertips. However, when I'm critiquing someone else's writing, I try to look at each line with obviously, a more critical eye.

    I find that both the critiques I give others as well as the critiques I receive make me a better writer. At least, I hope that's the case.

    I'm very grateful for the critiques you have given me. You are making me a better writer.

  3. I fight enough with my fellow magazine writers about critiquing to want to tackle ANWA sisters, who I'm sure would be less taxing. I like being critiqued it helps my writing, but I don't like critiquing. Does that make sense?

  4. I, on the other hand, seem to enjoy critiquing almost more than I do writing. I love to eee how others put things down, and am usually in awe of somebody else's imagination. It's a joy to get that sneak preview, and to find a spot or two where I can add something in the way of catching a homonym that spell check accepts but doesn't fit. I have no idea how much help I might be, but I sure do have fun.


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