December 20, 2011

what goes around

Twelve Days of Writing No. 10: Know how to give and receive constructive criticism. 

You are writing a book, play, poem, screenplay or whatever. That's great. In your mind, it is the best story ever told. Or maybe you are honest enough to know it needs some work. Regardless, the story is your creation, the love of your life (or at least the moment) and a product of your labor and dedication. Wanting to reaffirm the greatness of your story you share it with friends, family and your cousin's nephew's former hair stylist hoping for feedback.

Their response? "It was good." Or, "I didn't like it." Or, "I don't get it." Whatever the answer, unless there is some constructive criticism in their response you likely will not be able to make your story better. (Here's a quick news flash: No matter how awesome you are, and trust me you are great, you can always become better. That's the nature of humanity. Our potential is limitless.)

Knowing how to give and receive constructive criticism is a valuable party of the creative process. Gaining another person's perspective can strengthen your story, or put you on a better path. But how do you do it?

Receiving Criticism

•  Listen. This can be difficult. I struggle with this every time I share my writing, because I grow unabashedly attached to my work. But learning how to receive the criticism is quite simple: SHUT UP AND LISTEN.

•  Look at the big picture. Take a step back. Fully comprehend the feedback you are receiving. After your buddy is done, ask follow-up questions to make sure you understand any suggestions. Keep your cool and be polite through it. This person has taken their time to help your story. The least you can do is let them.

• You don't suck. Even if your pages are covered with red ink, or the feedback seems completely negative, know that you don't suck. It's easy to think you do, but you only suck if you give up and decide you don't want to become better. If you feel like crying, because the reviews were bad, go ahead. Have a little cry. But then, wipe your tears and wash your face and move on. You have work to do.

•  When comments get rough, give yourself a big hug. If you're still feeling bummed, come up with some sort of mantra like, "You are awesome, Laura," and say it to yourself in the mirror a few times. You'll feel like better eventually.

Giving Criticism

•  Be helpful. It is your goal to help the writer become better, and you need to follow through with this. Don't go into attack mode or be condescending.

•  Be respectful and use a good tone. The golden rule of treating others as you would like to be treated never goes out of style. Also, communicate with the writer and not at. You'll be amazed how much better your message will get through.

•  Look for the good, not only the bad. I guarantee every story has some redeeming quality about it. Identify it and make sure the writer knows what they did well. When a person knows, they'll keep doing it.

•  Sandwich your comments. You start with a little bit of praise. "Hey, Laura, I really like how you had the characters meet. It was funny, and the timing was great." Followed by something to work on. "Laura, you use forms of 'to be' quite often. Use more active verbs and it will move the story along better." Then, finish off that sandwich with another slice of praise: "You have beautiful eyes, Laura. I get lost in them." Or something like that.

•  Offer a solution. Don't just tell a writer they should fix something without giving some instruction. Be specific. It drives me nuts when someone says, "You might want to work on (vague topic)," then leaves it. Instead, try the previous example of, "you're using a lot of 'to be' verbs, but should keep your voice more active. It's challenging, but it keeps the story moving at a stronger pace."

In General

Criticism is one person's opinion. You, the writer, ultimately decide what you will do. Don't let that stop you from making changes, though. Change might seem scary, but it often leads to something good.

Giveaway challenge: What are other ways to be a good critique buddy? 

Answer in the comments below to be entered to win this week's Twelve Days of Writing drawing. Be sure to check back Friday at 2 p.m. CDT to see if you are this week's winner. Read about the contest and what prizes you can win here. This week's winner will receive the Top Chef cookbook and recipe kit.  

1 comment:

  1. Whenever I edit work for someone, I have two methods. If it's professional, I do it in Microsoft Word's editing program, so they can see their work without changes, with changes, where the changes go or however works best for them. They can accept or reject changes at the click of a button. It makes it easier to make the changes and just move on.

    If I'm editing for friends, I print out the project and then use green ink whenever possible. It doesn't have any negative connotations so they can just focus on the suggested changes.

    If something is changed because of grammar, I just change it. If something is plot related or of a similar nature I say what the issue I'm having is, "This says the kitchen is on the left but last chapter it was on the right". Then I make the correction. If people know what you are thinking when you suggest changes they can see if its valid or not. :)