Let’s Get Critical

Over the years my attitude and approach to providing feedback on the work of other writers has changed considerably. This isn’t too surprising in hindsight, but after providing feedback on a handful of short stories recently, it made me think a little deeper about what has changed and why.

In my first writing group, we had the opportunity to prepare up to 300 words on a topic which was provided prior to the meeting. The work could be prose or poetry, factual or fictional, and it was brought along, sight unseen, to the gathering. Time was put aside for reading the work aloud and receiving feedback if requested. By listening to the feedback provided by others, I began to learn how to identify what worked and how to articulate constructive criticism on other people’s writing.

Constructive criticism is challenging to prepare and to give, but the benefits of being able to make suggestions which may clarify unclear points and strengthen the work are significant. By reading and thinking critically about someone else’s writing, it provides the opportunity to be exposed to a wide range of different styles and approaches, often in genres that you might not spend much time in. It stretches the mind and helps you to see what is possible.

Most of my critiquing these days is completed at my desk with a copy of the work to hand. I prefer to read the work through quite quickly, resisting the urge to mark up sections or make corrections, trying to focus instead on the story and the impression that it leaves on me. If I can, I will leave the work for a day or so before returning to read it slowly, taking my time to write comments and scribble thoughts. I will then jot down impressions of the piece, along with what worked and what might be improved. In my writing group we share feedback at regular critiquing sessions, and it is helpful to see what resonates with others along with picking up on insights from other writers. It is a great way to hone critiquing skills.

I find that bringing a critical eye and a different perspective helps me with my own work as well, reminding me that sometimes you need to step away in order to really see how a piece comes together.

There are many online critiquing groups where writers share their work and provide feedback on other people’s stories. For now I find that there is enough critiquing to be done in my existing writing circles, but I may venture into online critiquing in the future.

What is your experience in providing constructive feedback?

[Photo: bikes spotted in the small village of Marulan – offering a different viewpoint of something familiar]

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9 thoughts on “Let’s Get Critical

  1. isn’t it ironic that i am about to give constructive crit about a piece of writing about constructive crit….? 🙂
    i always leave a little comment against the pieces of writing that i read here. i have 56 tags of topics of interest and i try to keep on top of new posts because i love to discover new writers and i always feel, as a writer, that it often takes courage for a writer to share their innermost thoughts and to some extent expose themselves. i think, therefore, constructive criticism is important – even just a few words – stating what moved you about the piece of work you just read… or what it was about its rhythm or percussive rhyme etc that made your heart stop and think “wow… this is great” or what made it memorable.
    i, too, feel that my approach to offering my comments/criticism has changed recently too. i have become less tolerant of poor spelling or typos – sadly. if i begin to read a piece and find a spelling mistake – glaring – i tend not to continue reading it. is this awful of me?
    as a writer, i tend to write from the heart but, as a musician and visual artist also, i love the way WordPress allows me to discover new writers – new form, new genres, new styles and impressions.
    i can relate to a lot of what you have shared here and i am open to discussing this further – if you wish. every day is a school day and writing (and reading the works of others) can teach you a lot about yourself.

    • Hello, lovely to meet you and thank you for your comprehensive comments. And thank you, too, for reminding me of the merit of letting the writer know what moved them in a piece or blog post – sometimes I read blog posts and my mind circles back to them later but I’m not so good at going back and letting the writer know. I must try a bit harder on that score.
      In regards to finding it harder to pass by spelling mistakes, I can relate to this too but that isn’t limited to critiquing writing – it jars my attention at work too! It impacts on the professionalism of a piece, but it usually isn’t something deliberate and I know my work isn’t perfect by any means so I try to be a bit more flexible about it.
      I was interested to read of your range of interests and your discovery of new writers and styles through WordPress – there is a whole world of talent out there and like you I feel blessed when I come across something that resonates or changes my perception on something.
      Thank you again for taking the time to respond and I hope we cross paths again.

  2. I learned the hard way not to make any marks during the initial reading, because sometimes I didn’t understand where the article (or essay, or book) was going until I got to the end, which meant my initial comments were irrelevant.

    • That’s a really good point, Ann. You often need to take the whole piece of work into account before you can comment on it. It is tempting sometimes to jot notes on the first read through but a twist or surprise at the end, or a dawning realisation when you re-read a piece, can make all the difference. Thank you for your comments.

    • Wise words, Gail! I like to hear and read the feedback provided by others as there is always room for improvement in my own critiquing. And you are right, too, about the ability to accept constructive feedback. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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