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Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Careful Critique

Critiquing another writer's work is tricky. 

It's a fine balance of compliments and criticism. If you're really good at giving feedback, you offer gently worded suggestions.

I like to think I've gotten pretty good at giving honest, useful, suggestions that don't wound the recipient's soul.
  
A careless critique can damage a writer's self-confidence

A vicious one can inflict deeper injuries that may cause creative paralysis, preventing them from taking pen to paper for weeks, months, or possibly years.
 
The first reviews I received was from teachers in elementary school. A few months ago, I pulled out the 1st books I'd ever written - circa 1979.

Over three decades ago, I was an eager fifth grader and these first works were school projects. I vividly recall their creation and how at first I felt proud, followed by frustrated, and finally ashamed.

I eagerly wrote each story and submitted them for the teacher's review. She had me re-write them numerous times. Not for the content, but because my printing was nearly illegible.

I'd squish all my words together, making each sentence resemble one elongated word. Supercalifragilciousexpialidocious had nothing on 10 year old me.

Saying printing was a little difficult for me, is like saying a little chocolate is never enough

During the previous year, in fourth grade, Mrs. Burmeyer took me to task nearly every day for my poor penmanship.

She had a menacing German accent, kept her grey hair pulled into a severe bun, not one hair dared stray. Do I need to mention she wielded a wooden meter stick? Well, she did. With fury. In outrage she broke it over my best friend's desk. But that's another story.

If I close my eyes I can hear Mrs. Burmeyer yelling, "Spaces, Jodi. Spaces!"

One day, when I began to cry she chastised me for my tears. You see, when they dropped to my page they smudged my pencil marks, making my work even messier. For shame. Uh huh, that was sarcasm.

Needless to say, fourth grade was not my favorite. But back to these books and onto fifth grade. I painstakingly rewrote each book, writing in my absolute best longhand, and submitted them with fingers crossed.

When the teacher returned my masterpiece, The Ghost Host, I flipped to the last page, searching for her comments. My heart sunk.

Rather than focus on what I had done well, she drew special attention to my faults, underlining the word, "neater", as if somehow that would finally make me say, "Aha! Now I get it. My handwriting is sub par."

What her words did quite successfully was make me feel horrible about myself. I handed in my best work, but apparently my best was not good enough. My pride turned to shame. 

Thankfully between then and today, word processors were invented. Both my editor and I are grateful, as my printing and handwriting never improved much beyond my middle school abilities. And thankfully teaching has come a long way in thirty years.
 
When I give feedback, I bring my life experience with me and I leave my red pen at home. My goal is to uplift, support, encourage, direct, and inspire my fellow writers to create their best work.

Shame never enters the picture. Not does a measuring stick.

16 comments:

  1. I agree with you. A little kindness goes a long way. No need to make someone feel like they're crawling around bleeding. :)

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    1. Exactly. And every writer is coming from a different place with regards to their own writing journey. When giving feedback that has to be taken into consideration.

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  2. Totally agree!! You need to be nice, yet honest! My husband is a writer and has such low self esteem when it comes to his work. It's hard to nurture as well as critique his work.

    Hugs!

    Valerie Nunez and the Flying Platypi

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    1. Hey Valerie,

      It's all part of being a writer. lol. I'm pretty tough now, but when I first began, I couldn't handle too much criticism. Being part of a critique group was essential to growing a thicker skin. Plus, it helped my confidence and my writing improved in the process.

      Best just to nurture your husband. Leave the critiquing to fellow writers. That way, it won't disrupt your relationship. My husband is VERY careful about what he says about anything of mine that he reads. (Our couch is very lumpy.)

      Take care!
      Jodi

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  3. Visiting from A-Z. You're right, criticism just crushes the spirit and wounds the heart. Encouragement and helpful critique is what helps anyone grow.

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    1. And when you're a child, it can be harder to recover.

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  4. You've got the right idea with being delicate with criticism. It does depend on the person receiving it too, but most people like to hear something positive. There's always a gentle way to deliver a constructive critique. :)

    Ana

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    1. I agree. I'm well seasoned and have a fairly thick skin, but when I first began writing...different story.

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  5. Often our best is actually not good enough :))
    And of spaces...they matter a lot!!!

    Regards
    ~Kriti~

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    1. Without those darn spaces the words "and over" warps into Andover, a town in Massachusetts. Huge difference. :)

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  6. Critiquing definitely is difficult. I hate to think that my simple words, from a non-expert, might hurt someone's feelings. Yet I hope they believe I do so in hopes of helping them. The world of writing is filled with enough difficult moments and days of insecurity, I'd hate to add to it.

    Have fun with a-z.

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    1. It's a fine balance, for sure. I'm finding, like anything, the more I critique the better I'm getting at it. I'm also much better at receiving a critique as well. My skin is now several inches thick. lol

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  7. I am following from blogging A to Z. I just added you on GFC.

    A MOM'S POINT OF VIEW
    http://www.AMomsPointOfView.com

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    1. Thanks Kimmy,

      I'll pop over to your site!

      Cheers.

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  8. Sometimes it's hard to find the right balance when critiquing. I always read through my comments once more before I send it off to make sure nothing sounds too harsh, but still gets the message across.

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    1. That's always my intent, too. Inform and inspire.

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