The morning brings a pleasant surprise. A gentle rain that falls from about 7 until noon. It’s not likely we’ll see a miracle in terms of plant resurrection, but it’s nice to see something other than rusty grass, and the green parts have certainly perked up a bit.

This morning Bryon and I took Sekhmet in for surgery. She had a growth in her right front shoulder. Now she is resting peacefully and we’ll pick her up after she spends the night at the vet. We’ll get her sutures out when we get back from Florida. The little nodule has been sent off to the kitty pathologist to make sure that it’s not cancerous. No one is terribly concerned that it is, but that’s what you do. Anyway, our poor little kitty will need some tlc for the next couple of days.


So, the other day, I wrote about vision versus technique. There are a few other things about critiquing that I’ve been thinking about since Taos, and of course, these things apply to other workshops.

1. Positive, then negative, then positive. Or, as David McAmis called it, “the shit sandwich.” This is a business writing technique, where you bury the less desirable information in between more desirable information. There are a couple of schools about critiquing. Some authors prefer you to focus on what needs to be fixed only. That can make for a fairly negative review alone, so a mixed review about what works and what might work better strikes me as a good idea. The follow up, the positive at the end, might be even more important than the positive at the beginning. That way the overall effect of the critique does not become a grocery list of hard hits.

This, of course, begs, the question what do you do if the critique has few positives? As I tell the students in composition class, usually something can be commented on positively. Also, the way that you give the feedback, in a constructive way, has a lot to do with how it is perceived.

2. Length of critique time. Not that Viable Paradise is the end all/be all of workshops, but they did seem to understand that attention spans are short. At VP, groups of about 10 (8 people, 2 instructors) took a couple of hours to critique two stories. This struck me as a good move, rather than listening to 15-20 people give you all the data you can stand until your eyes glaze over (both Taos and Dallas). In Vegas, since there 8 or so of us, well, the effect was more VPish.

3. Guidelines for critique. Taos did a great thing by handing out some suggestions for critique. It might also have been useful to send those out before the workshop, but guidelines are particularly helpful for those who are new to the process.

4. Humor? Does it have a place at the table? Every workshop I’ve been at allows you to crack jokes. There’s a fear at Odyssey, I understand, that this detracts from the critiques and turns the sessions into performance. I don’t think that’s true. I think that humor can help de-escalate the stress of a critique, as long as it is good-spirited.

5. Critiques are confidential. So, you probably shouldn’t talk about them in your journal, especially if other workshoppers can figure out who’s who. (Not Taos.) You probably should only talk about your own critiques, but not with any denigration. This was stressed at Taos, but not at the other workshops I’ve been to. And it probably should be.

6. Counseling! One thing that VP does that’s FANTASTIC, that we can’t do at our small home brew critiques, but Taos might think about, is to have experienced workshoppers from previous workshops to act as counselors and cheer leaders. Because a workshop is a weird space, psychologically, and a little help can sidestep a negative experience.


Just some thoughts. Overall, the critiques I’ve had from the workshops I’ve been in have been helpful. I guess it’s a way to build up our callouses for the ultimate editorial letter.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

One thought on “Critiquing”

  1. Just some thoughts. Overall, the critiques I’ve had from the workshops I’ve been in have been helpful. I guess it’s a way to build up our callouses for the ultimate editorial letter.

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