The Importance of the Critique

Happy Sunday, everyone! Here in the US, and in West Virginia, today is Father’s Day, and it’s also West Virginia Day, so were celebrating double today. I managed to marry a fantastic man who is also a fantastic father to our son. So, to my sweet hubs Chris, I hope you have a fantastic Father’s Day! For the rest of you out there that celebrate Father’s Day, I hope you still have your pops around to celebrate with, and I hope you’re able to show him just what he means to you today.

The other holiday ’round these parts is West Virginia Day. On this day in 1863, West Virginia became the 35th state of the union. We usually celebrate with a day off from work (because we’re state employees) and some places run sales or specials today. Sometimes our state parks have celebrations like picnics or feature foods WV is known for on their restaurant menus. So…yay West Virginia!

Lastly, on Friday the US celebrated it’s first federally-sanctioned Juneteenth holiday. What does that mean? Well, when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. Because in the mid-19th-century news travelled slowly, it wasn’t until 2 years later, June 19, 1865, before the residents of Galveston, Texas heard the news. It has been “unofficially” celebrated in various parts of the country ever since, but President Biden made it an official federal holiday – June 19, 2021. Thank goodness, too, and it’s about time!

Lastly, my BIGGEST news – I learned this week that I won first place in the Emerging Writers category at the 2021 WV Writers competition! In 2019 I took honorable mention in the same category and I really had very low hopes for the story I submitted, so I was pleasantly surprised (aka – SHOCKED) when I got the news. I’m still a little shocked about it, even when I look at the shadow box that’s hanging on my wall holding my certificate, ribbon, and the prize money check I received for winning. I’m so thankful for this competition that serves to showcase the HUGE pool of creative talent we have in West Virginia, and it makes me exceptionally proud to have won this award!

And now, let’s talk about critiquing – why do we need it, and how do we do it.

For me, a critique is one of the most important and useful parts of creating any story. Whether it’s a quick-and-dirty read-over by my husband or a more formal review performed in a class or workgroup setting, having someone with an eye to making your work better is invaluable, although sometimes painful. As writers (creators, really), learning how to take constructive criticism gracefully is an important lesson. Being able to tell the difference between a helpful criticism and someone who’s just bringin’ the snark is also a valuable lesson. It’s actually more an art than a technique, and your internal ear goes a long way when discerning the two. I can’t really offer much instruction on that point – you either know or you don’t – and only your own experience can help you know.

Offering critique to a fellow writer MUST be done from a place of compassion, fraternity, and with the hope of helping a fellow writer become better. It isn’t a competition out there in the writing world; we’re all after the same thing. Helping someone else get a piece of the pie doesn’t diminish your share. Don’t be one of those that offer more snark than helpful advice, and don’t be one of those that offers all criticism and no praise. In even the (technically) worst piece of writing you come across, there’s something good. There’s something to praise and encourage. Even if it’s only their fortitude to keep trying, there’s something there. After all – if they keep trying, they’re practicing, and practice makes perfect (or better), after all. Criticize with the idea in mind that your words will encourage rather than discourage.

How do you do that, though? How do you mitigate the bad news that your critique may deliver to someone whose heart and soul is on the page you’re reading? Try to deliver the criticism with grace and with the knowledge that you, too, were there once, as well. You didn’t burst forth with the knowledge and skill you have now; someone (quite possibly a lot of someones) along the way helped you to develop your skill and technical knowledge of composing and creating. You didn’t develop in a vacuum; you have influences and influencers. Strive to be one of those for someone else, and not for your own bragging rights, but for the joy of seeing someone else succeed. It’s worth it in the end, believe me.

Receiving criticism gracefully is just as much an art as dishing it out. Remember that the person who is offering you critique is in the same position that you are when you’re delivering critiques. They’re offering you advice and opinion based on their own experience and knowledge in hopes that your writing will become better. Even if what your critique partner is, perhaps, not what you want to hear, consider it and give it the weight it deserves. Whether or not you take the advice that is offered is ultimately up to you, but make sure you give it consideration and thought before you dismiss it. Don’t seek to answer your critique partner from a place of anger or offense. If you can only be angry about your critique partner’s comments, then don’t answer at all. The old adage of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” is the golden rule in this case. If you’re dealing with a snarky critique, the golden rule still applies. Don’t feed the trolls.

So, in closing, remember the value inherent in the tool of the critique. Remember that giving one is as valuable as receiving one; you’re flexing all the muscles you need to create by helping someone else get better. Keep critiquing – and keep receiving critiques – in the long run, your overall creative health will certainly benefit!

Have a fantastic Sunday – and if you celebrate it, happy Father’s Day, and happy West Virginia Day!

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s