I followed a very interesting conversation today begun by a fellow writer, Braden Bell on his observation that the fine art of critique-giving is something that would benefit writers to develop. Knowing how to give helpful critique as well as knowing how to accept it can both be very beneficial.
I mulled over these thoughts, and read some fantastic comments to Braden's, including a link to Annette Lyon's blog where she talks about tactful ways of giving and taking critiques, here. In addition, Julie Danes blogged some excellent suggestions here, as well.
My main thought on giving criticism is most importantly of all, that I need to be careful. A piece of writing is the creation of its author, and the author is understandable protective of his or her work. And that is as it should be. Having said that, there are often things an author can do, especially a beginning author, to make a piece of writing stronger, and there are ways for a critique-giver to tactfully offer suggestions and correction. Author Jennifer Nielsen put it very well when she said "I think when approaching criticism, it’s important to emphasize that
the goal is to find a weak choice and turn it into a stronger choice." Instead of considering it a "wrong" or "right" choice. She went on to add that when suggesting a change, a good way to approach this is to begin with the words: "You might consider..." so that the author can see the suggestion, but still feel in control of her own story. In a situation where there is actually a glaring error (for example, at the beginning of the story, the main character's mother is dead, and her father is an unmarried widower, but halfway through the story she calls her mom, or writes her a letter, or tells her dad to tell mom hi) it may help to say something like, "At the beginning, I noticed xyz, but halfway through, I noticed abc." This too, can help a writer see a chance to make a needed change without feeling as if she's under attack. Perhaps the writer meant to bring back the mom into the story, and forgot to rewrite her in at the beginning, or she simply needed to remember to keep the mom out of the picture, and had forgotten to do so, which is a fairly easy mistake to make, and easy to correct.
In receiving criticism, I agreed with several of my fellow writers who said that they like to consider a critique slowly, and mull things over in their heads before rushing to make suggested changes. Angie Lofthouse offered this helpful suggestion: "My rule of thumb is to let any critique soak in for three days before
doing anything about it. After three days, the changes I'm excited to
make, I know are right for the story." Joyce DiPastena added that being humble, and not so quick to reject criticism one disagrees with, can go a long way in making us better writers. She likes to think, "Is there something I can learn from this comment?" and there usually is, even if in the end, she disagrees with a piece of criticism.
In the end, giving and getting critique whether it's for writing or something else, is often best done with a teachable, and open minded attitude. Being willing to learn and grow will help us all get better, whether it's at writing, or simply being more productive, contributing human beings.