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The Lonely Writer’s Companion: “What Makes for a Good Critique?” – 2014

Pub Date: Apr 30, 2014

Lisa Lenard-Cook

The Lonely Writer’s Companion

“What Makes for a Good Critique?”

Welcome to The Lonely Writer’s Companion. The format’s simple: You send in your questions, and each month I’ll select one to answer. Email your questions to me c/o dbooth@authorlink.com. (Be sure to put “Question for The Lonely Writer’s Companion” in the subject line.) You can also contact me through my website, www.lisalenardcook.com

“The first issue is what you, Mary, want from a critique group.”
—Lenard-Cook

Question: I just joined a critique group. I got so much feedback on my mystery-in-progress, I don’t know where to begin. I was so overwhelmed, I don’t even know if I want to go back to the group. What makes for a good critique? – Mary W.

The Lonely Writer responds: Entire books have been written to answer this question (one good one is Becky Levine’s The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide), but the Lonely Writer will nonetheless attempt to condense the issues into a one-page answer. The first issue is what you, Mary, want from a critique group. Are you seeking praise? Validation? Camaraderie? Or are you looking for feedback that will help you push your work to the next level, from writers who become as engaged in your work’s evolution as you are?

The best critique groups will focus on the latter, and beginning critique groups can benefit from having a more seasoned writer guide them. In The Mind of Your Story, I list seven commandments for critique groups:

  1. Thou shalt remain silent when thy work is being discussed.
  2. Thou shalt treat all manuscripts as thou wouldst wish to have thine own treated.
  3. Thy comments shalt be constructive, rather than merely critical.
  4. Thou shalt stick with the big stuff.
  5. Thou shalt note the small stuff on the manuscript rather than take up workshop time with it.
  6. Thou shalt not, during another’s critique, talk about thyself or thine own work.
  7. Thou shalt remember that thou shalt learn as much, if not more, from critiquing someone else’s work-in-progress as from having thine own work critiqued.

My favorite here is number 7. It’s much easier to see others’ errors than your own, so taking the next step and recognizing that you make that error as well can help your writing improve as much—if not more than—the critiques you receive.

“The longer you’re in a group, the more you’ll come to realize whose suggestions you value . . . “
——Lenard-Cook

The longer you’re in a group, the more you’ll come to realize whose suggestions you value and whose you’ll consistently ignore. Each of us has strengths and weaknesses both as a writer and an editor, and knowing who constructively addresses our weaknesses so that we can improve our work is why so many of us belong to critique groups.

So, to answer your question, Mary, the participants are what make or break a critique group. Make some rules, and stick to them. Care as passionately about others’ work as you do your own.

“. . . most importantly, never lose sight of how much you love writing.”
——Lenard-Cook

And, most importantly, never lose sight of how much you love writing. It’s why you’re there (and here) in the first place.

 

Got a question for The Lonely Writer’s Companion? Email it to me c/o dbooth@authorlink.com, (be sure to put “Question for The Lonely Writer’s Companion” in the subject line), or contact me through my website, www.lisalenardcook.com. Your question could appear in a future column.

Find Your Story Writer Your Memoir
Find Your Story,
Write Your Memoir

by Lisa Lenard-Cook
and Lynn C. Miller
Buy This Book via Amazon.com

PEN-short-listed author Lisa Lenard-Cook’s most recent book is Find Your Story, Write Your Memoir (University of Wisconsin Press), which she co-authored with Lynn C. Miller, with whom she co-founded of ABQ Writers Co-op (abqwriterscoop.com), creating community in New Mexico for writers everywhere. She’s an editor of the literary magazine bosque, on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, and the Board of Narrative Arts Center in Santa Fe. Website: lisalenardcook.com