February 18, 2008
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One of the benefits of participating in so many workshops has been getting practice at critiquing. I’ve always been good at criticizing others, but not necessarily in a way that they can take as positive. So it’s good to practice shaping your criticisms in a way that will not be taken as “you stink” and will also give the recipient a direction in which to focus his or her editing.
The latest round of stories I read for our fiction workshop were really good, and so they were easy to critique. In all the cases, there were only one or two things that stood out as being rough, so I had no trouble saying “great job, try to polish it here and here.” One of the things I saw is something I tend to do a lot myself, perhaps worthy of another post sometime, and that’s just writing something that sounds good without thinking about exactly what it means. There are a few phrases that are not quite cliches, but are familiar enough that they spring to mind when you’re just trying to get the next words out, like “he tried to figure out where it had all gone wrong,” or “for whatever reason…”
I also had to write critiques for the latest round of New Fables rejections, and those were pretty hard, because in some cases the stories were pretty good, just not what I was looking for. So I had to explain what I was looking for and then point out that the author might not want to change the story in that direction. But that’s their choice; it’s my magazine and I have a pretty clear idea of what kind of story I want for it, even if it is occasionally frustratingly difficult to communicate that to others. Anyway, in at least two or three of the cases, the author responded and indicated that the feedback was helpful, so I feel good about taking the time to do that.
Yet another reason to go out and join a workshop, if you’re not in one now! Practice critiquing; it makes you a better writer as well as a better reader.