Saturday, October 06, 2007

Is Critiquing The Same As Criticizing?

Several months ago I did a blog post on rewrites and the input authors get from others about their writing. I discovered through the informal survey quoted there that some authors want input from critique groups, some get it from one person (often their wife), and some absolutely won't let anyone see their work until it's finished. I tend to fall into the middle category.

My wife, Kay (pictured above with our grandson, Ryan), is my "first reader." I've teased Kay about whether she's picky or particular, but in either case, I know that when I show her something and she approves, it's good. On the other hand, she's an ace at finding holes in my plots, misplaced commas, and lack of logic and application in non-fiction works--including one that I'm writing now.

After she gives me back the hard copy of the latest draft, my tendency is to go off and pout for about ten minutes, then sit down and look at her notes. Although I don't always take her suggestions and translate them onto paper word-for-word, I generally see her point and it's almost always a good one.

As authors, we sometimes feel that everything we put on paper (or onto the computer screen) is deathless prose and should never be changed or deleted. Or, putting it another way, nobody likes to hear that their baby is ugly. But rewriting is--or should be--part of writing. A big part, matter of fact. And we all need to develop a thick skin and the ability to repeat to ourselves in seven languages the phrase, "This is constructive critiquing, not destructive criticism of my ability as a writer."

Do you think it's easier to write well than critique well? I don't. I think it takes a special gift to look at words that someone else has put down and make suggestions that will make the work stronger without just recreating the writing in your own words, thus losing the voice of the writer.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some rewriting to do. Thanks, Kay. (And thanks for giving me a couple of grandsons, a definite bonus that came with the marriage).

Come back on Wednesday for an interview with one of my favorite authors, Alton Gansky. You won't want to miss this one.

6 comments:

Nicole said...

You know, Richard, it sure sounds good to say and believe we have to have or acquire "a thick skin" as a writer. While I've acquired some measure of patience in the process, "thick skin" will never be a part of my wardrobe. Not wired for rejection, criticism at all. Makes me feel stupid. Can't help it.

Two "critics" will say the opposite things. One will love your voice, one won't "get it". You have to go with your gut. If someone spots something you didn't--thank the Lord they found it and you can remedy it. When someone else finds something they're just "picking on" because they aren't your target audience, toss it. (This is not to say you don't have to know your craft and write accordingly. It's to say we're different as writers, and not all of us adhere strictly to the "rules" of the current trends.)

You're blessed to have Kay, and she's a very pretty woman!

Timothy Fish said...

In answer to your question, no, they are not the same. The key difference, I believe, is that a critique is usually for the benefit of the author while the critic makes his assessment for the benefit of someone else. I think an author can benefit from a critique by someone who wants to see the author succeed, but a critique is not always the best way to improve a work. Critique groups usually consist of authors. This can be case where they help each other or a case where the blind are leading the blind. Having a trusted friend or family member critique the work is good because this person wants to see the author succeed, but this person may not be harsh enough.

I love praise. I heard yesterday that one of my readers enjoyed Searching for Mom so much that she decided to read it again. I enjoyed hearing that, but it does me little good in improving my writing. I am usually my own worst critic, but I am not always honest with myself. A critique is a great way to insure that we are honest with ourselves.

You mentioned writing. I am doing some of that too. I killed off a character that I should not have killed off, so now the last three chapters have to be rewritten. I will probably be rewriting the opening. Personally, I think revisions and rewriting are more fun than writing the first draft. It gives me a chance to make it better and yet I don’t have to spend to much time dreaming up the story. What I like even more is when I surprise myself with my own writing and get a good laugh. Maybe no one else will think that it is funny, but if I can make myself laugh then it is worth the effort.

Myra said...

Loved seeing the picture of Kay and the grandbaby! And so glad for the chace to see you again at ACFW. I'd never have guessed 15-20 years ago that my former ENT and I would both end up in the writing profession. How wonderful to have Kay as your first reader! I've never been quite that brave with Jack. :>)

Tina Helmuth said...

Amen to everything you said, Richard. And to me, thick skin is more about what you do with the critique. I consider myself as having a thick skin, although certain types of comments will probably always hurt my feelings.

But then after the emotions settle, I look to see what merit there is in the comment. Usually I can see the truth there and improve my writing.

Myra said...

Loved seeing the picture of Kay and the grandbaby! And so glad for the chace to see you again at ACFW. I'd never have guessed 15-20 years ago that my former ENT and I would both end up in the writing profession. How wonderful to have Kay as your first reader! I've never been quite that brave with Jack. :>)

Nicole said...

You know, Richard, it sure sounds good to say and believe we have to have or acquire "a thick skin" as a writer. While I've acquired some measure of patience in the process, "thick skin" will never be a part of my wardrobe. Not wired for rejection, criticism at all. Makes me feel stupid. Can't help it.

Two "critics" will say the opposite things. One will love your voice, one won't "get it". You have to go with your gut. If someone spots something you didn't--thank the Lord they found it and you can remedy it. When someone else finds something they're just "picking on" because they aren't your target audience, toss it. (This is not to say you don't have to know your craft and write accordingly. It's to say we're different as writers, and not all of us adhere strictly to the "rules" of the current trends.)

You're blessed to have Kay, and she's a very pretty woman!