Last entry, we talked about being active when you received crit. Now, how can you get good karma points as a reader?
I actually do a lecture on this with my students, because we have to do some peer edit training at the beginning of the semester. There are a couple of pitfalls that peer editors don’t avoid.
“Your paper is good. I wouldn’t change a thing.” There are two reasons that I see this happen in the classroom: 1. The student doesn’t know enough about writing to make any suggestions, and sees the writing as so much better than something they can do that they really believe the paper is unchangeable. 2. The student doesn’t want to take the time to crit the paper.
In theory, in a writing group, number 2 isn’t going to be our option. If it is, get out of that writing group! Number 1 can be a problem, which is why it’s important to be in with a group of your peers. There are ways to teach people about writing so they can help each other crit. I usually model anonymous student papers with the class. Perhaps a way to get on the same page is to critique a story that isn’t from one of the writers in the group, and give people some common ground.
What about those rare instances where a paper/story/novel really is good? It *can* happen. My suggestions at this time are for complimenting readers to substantiate what the writer is doing well by telling them the specifics that work, if no other reason that you don’t want a writer accidentally get rid of good stuff when they inevitably do some tweaking.
The other pitfall? When I give the speech about being too nice, perhaps the pendulum swings the other way.
“This paper sucks.”
Since I’m preaching to the choir, I won’t spend a lot of time on negative criticism. We know what it is. It’s what we’re all afraid of when we put our work out there, and it’s what makes us nervous. We know what we want is constructive criticism, which gives us some suggestions about what we can do with our problems. Pointing out a shortcoming is not enough. Dialoguing about possible solutions is important.
A good review is balanced with strengths and weaknesses. Every work has some of each. Many times, we make the mistake of only critiquing the weaknesses. Writers really need to know the strengths of a piece as well. As I mentioned above, we do like to keep what works.
I recommend if you can give someone your comments in writing, that’s best. We remember many things when we talk about the work, but unless someone writes something down, and even then, we might forget. Try to capture what’s said.
Good crit can be given after any draft, and it’s what particularly skilled editors do. A really good crit can enhance the story a great deal.
Next: revision. I’ll talk about what I do and why, and how that might apply to you.