I was trying to draft…

I was trying to draft some rules for critiquing online, and I keep feeling like I'm missing some of the things I normally say in an in-person workshop. What am I forgetting? Writers, help!

MARY ANNE'S RULES FOR CRITIQUING

  1. The writer is not the character. Be careful in your critique not to assume they are the same. This is an especially common assumption when dealing with socially difficult material (for example, with a story about a girl who's been sexually abused by her father, workshop participants often assume the piece is a thinly-disguised true story). Unless the piece is clearly marked as nonfiction, it's best to assume the writer just made everything up. That's our job, after all, making things up.

  2. This is not your story. Remember when critiquing that your job is not to tell the author how *you* would write this piece, but to help them create the piece the way they envision it. Don't change the ending to a happy one if they want it sad, etc. You can offer options they might not have considered, of course, but in the end, you're trying to facilitate the work they're trying to do. If you're itching to tell a story differently, when you're done critiquing, you can always go write your own piece!

  3. Say the good things. Writers often don't know what they're doing right -- it's important to tell them what worked for you in the piece. Otherwise they may cut it right out, never realizing how good it was. And, of course, it's always easier for any of us to take criticism if it's accompanied with at least a dollop of sweet, sweet praise.

  4. Don't show off. It can be tempting to use critiques as an opportunity to show how clever you are, how wittily you can mock the problems in the piece, making yourself look good at another writer's expense. This is cruel and thoughtless behavior, unworthy of a working writer. Don't do it.

2 thoughts on “I was trying to draft…”

  1. Here’s the list I wrote during the discussion at the in-person workshop. I meant to polish and expand this, but for now figured I should just send you the short version.

    0. The goal of the critique is to help the author make the story as good as it can be. Look at what the author is trying to do, and discuss ways that the author can do that more effectively. There may be some contexts in which you don’t think what the author’s trying to do is worthwhile, but pretend it is.

    1. Author is not character (in fiction).

    2. Address effectiveness of the work, rather than making moral judgments.

    3. Make “I” statements.

    4. Their story, not your story.

    5. Don’t take any one critiquer’s comments too literally.

    6. Don’t spend critique time nitpicking.

    7. Don’t focus on being Clever in your critique — if the goal of what you’re about to say is to get a laugh at the author’s expense, probably best not to say it.

    8. Bring in stories somewhere between raw and ultra-polished.

    9. Start by saying something positive?

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