Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my writing career is critique other people’s writing.
You may have noticed I’m a big fan of balance. I seriously believe everything in life comes down to it. Critique is no exception. In critique the balance is between truth and encouragement.
It’s easy to critique someone who doesn’t need it. Then truth and encouragement come together for form one big “Wonderful! Excellent! Send it out!” That leaves the other 80 percent of us who are struggling to achieve some level of excellence in our work and NEED feedback to help get us there.
The more the writer needs the feedback, the harder it is to come up with a critique that is both truthful and encouraging. Sometimes simply being truthful is a burden because there are so many things wrong with a piece. Then encouragement might come in the form of simply not listing everything.
On the other hand, without truth there can be no improvement. I, for one, would much prefer a highly discouraging but insightfully critique to one that glosses over everything to make it look like I’m doing well when I’m not. Nothing ticks me off more than contest results with low numbers and nothing but praise. If it deserved all the praise, where are the high scores?
As Mona Risk has said many times, “I’d rather hear it from you <her critique partners> than from an editor.” More to the point, if she didn’t have truthful critique partners, all she would be hearing from an editor is, “This does not meet our needs at this time.”
The result is that I have become a nasty critique partner. I seriously apologize to everyone I’ve critiqued in the last five years – particularly you, Nancy. I’ve always been inclined to be a bit brusque. Now that my patience with critiquing has settled to nearly zero my comments have leaned toward the harsh. I simply am not willing to be encouraging at the expense of truth.
Likewise, I don’t want to hear platitudes regarding my writing. Yes, it hurt to hear my baby maligned, but it hurts worse to think I’ve got something good and send it out to a slew of form letter rejections.