“That was really good. I liked it.”
Hey, you. Critique group member. Yes, I’m talking to you. Do you think you can get away with this feedback? Seriously? Sure, early on in my writing life, I needed unconditional praise. Heck, sometimes it was the only thing that kept me going. But since then, I’ve changed.
1) I went to grad school. I’ve had critiques that were more intrusive than a colonoscopy. I’ve been told my piece “may be beyond hope.” I’ve had feedback that made me want to trade-in writing for a more reasonable hobby, like say, piloting a space shuttle. But most importantly, I experienced an increase of epidermal strata. (My skin thickened.)
2) I’ve joined more seasoned writers groups. They showed me that, while a little praise can be a needed nudge, more in-depth analysis of my writing is a far greater gift. I’ve learned to cherish comments like “I found my mind wandering during this section,” or “I need more visual detail to fully believe this scene,” or “If you tightened the tension in this section the reader will be more engaged.”
3) I’m now thoroughly addicted to critiquing. I’m in several groups, and believe it is an honor to review my fellow group members’ works. They trust me with their writing and I try hard not to let them down. A nice sidebar to this approach: I start to feel a part of their writing process. I have an investment in what they are working on and, when they sell or place a project, I feel proud. And if a manuscript that I think is strong gets rejected, I feel mad for the writer. Stupid editor/agent/publisher! Clearly they ate bad fish during lunch before they read it because they SHOULD have accepted this. Don’t give up!
My point is, “I really liked this” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Did you look hard enough? How about the structure of the sentence ending the second paragraph: you’re going to let me get away with that? Didn’t you notice the waiter had brown hair on page one and blond on page six? Do you really think the character’s “eyes wandered around the room?” Isn’t that medically impossible? And how many times did I use the words “shrug” and “hoosegow”?
(Okay, I’ve never actually used hoosegow, but it’s a great word, isn’t it?)
Of course, after you’ve done the hard work, and told me what I need to revise, I won’t mind if you say you like it. I value your opinion more than I can say.
What do you like to see in a critique partner?