Critiquing another writer is a fabulous tool to improve your own prose. In order to embrace the responsibility of assisting another (and likewise releasing your creation to someone you do not know well), you must step from the solitary cave where all writers do their best work. The experience, though at times numbing, can be a great benefit for a number of reasons.
Writers tend to make similar mistakes and exhibit the same flaws and weaknesses; seeing errors in other’s writing illuminates some of those same mistakes in your own.
Critiquing, like self-editing, requires a different mind-set than creation, a sterner attitude requiring development and conscious attention to detail.
Talking with dozens of writers about “judging” another writer’s work (an inaccurate description, by the way) the topic is one task many dread, and thereby avoid, often because of fear they lack the skill or don’t want to hurt feelings. Understandable, yes, but like most writers’ fears—rejection, question of being good enough, etc.—overcoming them pays huge dividends. Simply, critiquing another enables you to better edit your own writing.
Whereas creation is fueled by a driving emotion, critiquing (editing) is powered by the analytical portion of the brain. Learning to better critique another transforms self-editing from agonizing to productive as you prime your brain to look for certain aspects—verb tense, active vs. passive, viewpoint switches, logistical inconsistencies, and a host of others—to repair your own creation.
Writer’s Groups and Clubs can be counter-productive, but at times can be helpful—it’s a matter of attitude. Whether within a group or matched to an individual, there should be a spirit of cooperation with one-upmanship banished to the cold outdoors.
When in one writer’s group—in which we exchanged short stories to be critiqued—another writer pointed out a market for my story I had not considered: that story, “The Accomplice,” sold to Women’s World for $500, but more importantly, a by-line in a magazine with several million readers. I am forever grateful to the fellow writer who encouraged me to submit the story.
Here, though, I want to focus on one-on-one critiquing, and finding a suitable counterpart is imperative. I was fortunate in that regard.
James and I met while walking our dogs at the local park. Soon into our conversation we discovered we are both writers. James writes speculative fiction, so do I; his novel is completed, as is mine; we both wrote from multi-viewpoints, third person past tense; both our main protagonists are immortal. The writing god’s lightning rod struck us both—too much to be coincidence.
One of those instances when the palm of fate’s hand smacks you upside the head.
Before long we agreed to read each others novels. A bit more talk and we decided to critique with the goal to improve our tales, and thus, make them more marketable in our particular sub-genres—his novel is a sci-fi/steampunk, mine is heroic fantasy.
The process began roughly six months ago. We met several times at a local pub to discuss, among other things, our hopes and expectations the budding relationship would unveil.
We discussed the overall process, and after some thoughtful and respectful debate, decided on a line-by-line edit. We also decided to pay close attention to character, plot development, inconsistencies, and general problem areas.
Currently I am critiquing his first 5 chapters, and he holds the second quarter of my novel.
The relationship has been profitable on multiple levels, though not in a monetary way—yet.
I have stated it before: No Writer is an Island. That has once again been proven during the critiquing process.
James and I have far different styles and voices (mine is more flowing with descriptive language—per my selected genre–and James’s is short and pithy with a great deal of action), but it matters little. There are, after all, many ways to tell a story.
Next post will describe the many lessons I’ve learned during our critique efforts, and a few pointers on how to be more effective when working with other writers. I’ll also add links to online critique groups.
The process is all about improving, remember, both your writing and others, so step from your cave and reach out—your courage will make you stronger.
See you on the next page,
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