Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Thinking About Critiquing

I've been thinking about critiques lately. Since my last ones, actually, which I felt were a little too rushed. My own fault, there. I just didn't give myself enough time.

This isn't the first time I've dwelled on my critiquing skills. As a matter of fact, anyone who has known me long enough knows that I quite often struggle with this. It is simply that I want my critiques to match my thoughts of the piece, and for all that I'm a writer, I find it quite difficult to make the two match up like I'd like them to.

As I was reminded today, critiques are a balance of recommendations and constructive criticism, and the wording is everything. I tend to feel passionately for not only what I'm reading but my thoughts on what I'm reading as well as how it compares to my own training and experiences, and this combination has a tendency to make my comments come across too authoritative. What I tend to forget is there is no 'right way' of writing. My opinions on a piece are just that, opinions based on my own preferences and biases and skills. But rather than present my opinions as opinions, I think quite often I state them as The Rule.

What rule? Whose rule? Mine? Little, unpublished, over-schooled me? The rules of those I've read, that fairly small smattering of books of a rather narrow slice of reading possibilities? The rules of my writing professor (and let me tell you how the 'no -ly adjective' rule has stayed with me)?

The other realization I've come to is that familiarity can truly breed contempt. Not that I find anyone I critique contemptible or their work contemptible. Quite the opposite. I tend to become emotionally invested in a piece, no matter what faults I find in it personally. But my language tends to become contemptible the more of one person's work I critique. Being friends with a fellow writer is all well and good, but that doesn't give me carte blanche to word my critiques with a familiarity that could read as snarky and mean. How useful is that, anyway? Whatever point I'm trying to make gets lost behind the snideness and the sting. The only person I'm amusing, and rather cruelly, is myself, and critiques aren't for me, but for the writer whose work I'm reading.

Thinking back, I can see my tendency of snide familiarity in just about every writers group I've been a part of, and quite frankly, I'm a little ashamed of my presumption and arrogance. What else could inspire such behavior? I know I've been pretty arrogant in my day.

Well, I'm starting a new chapter in my critiquing life. One based on humility and recognition of a work for what it is rather than how it matches my idea of what a work should be. And to do this, I think I need to get in more critiques than I do now. So I'm giving serious considering about joining Critters in addition to my critiquing for INK. I'm also thinking about trying out for Lucky Labs as well, though I think I need to double check their meeting schedule against my summer camping trips to make sure I wouldn't miss too many meetings if I was accepted to the group.

I'm rather excited about all of this, even given my rather harsh interpretation of my own critiquing skills. One of my goals of being a member of INK was to improve my critiquing skills, and I think this realization goes a very long way to doing so.

So, here's to improvement! Because becoming a better critiquer helps those I read as much as it helps me!


C.S. said...

Go YOU! I am so proud to be in this group with you. Any other group you choose to be a part of ought to find your skills invaluable as INK does. I can't, nor will ever be able to convey how much your writing and critique skills have helped me learn. Thank you again, Ris, in case I haven't said it yet.

Carissa said...

Thanks, C.S. I think the one most important part of being in any group has been how it motivates me to keep improving myself. You and the others giving me a chance to read and critique your work, in addition to all the great advice and suggestions you have to say about my work, keeps me going forward. Thanks! INK rocks.

Kami said...

I'm glad you mentioned this because I wonder if I go too far too. I figure if I'm wondering, I probably am. If nothing else, I should be more mindful of what I say. Is it professional? Is it phrased in a helpful way? Am I suggesting rather than dictating, reading and commenting on my experience vs. editing it the way I would edit it? If I'm being funny, is it shared fun or could it be construed as hurtful, sarcastic or snide?

There's always something to learn, always ways to improve. Having said that, I value your comments, Ris, and you've yet to hurt my feelings. Of course there's a lot of water under the bridge, and I've always been willing to tell you nah. Heh. :-)