While the 2020 holidays are behind us, the season of giving doesn’t have to be. This applies to all aspects of life, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on how it applies to writing. Done right, critique can be one of the greatest gifts one writer gives to another.
Done wrong, it can be a disaster.
Of course there isn’t just one right way to critique. There are lots of right ways. And the converse applies — there are lots of wrong ways too. Let’s get the wrong ones out of the way first:
Unsolicited feedback isn’t critique, it’s criticism. Call it the first rule of Write Club: if the writer didn’t ask for your feedback, it’s unlikely that your input will be helpful. There’s nothing wrong with book criticism, by the way! Review all you want, anywhere you want, in as much detail as you want! But if you’re thinking about sending the author of the latest book you read a long email detailing all the ways you think their book could and should have been better? Well, that’s not what I’d consider a gift in this context.
Don’t try to make it the book you would have written. So if a writer you know has asked for honest feedback on their work and you’ve agreed, great! You’re on the road to providing a gift-y critique. But! There are still ways to go wrong. Unless they’ve asked you for something specific (“do you feel like chapter 3 is too long?”), what they probably want is a sense of what’s working for you — what’s compelling, intriguing, enjoyable — and what’s not — what you find boring, confusing, off-putting. If they’re writing a nautical murder mystery and you’d like the book better if it were set on land and nobody died, saying so is probably not a gift. You can say you find all the sailor-y jargon confusing. You can say the way they describe the murder is too gruesome for your taste. But “I’d like it better if it were a completely different book”? Not helpful.
On a happier note, here’s how you can make your critique more of a gift to your writer pal: [Read more…]