You know the old adage, ‘practise makes perfect’?
Well take it from me, it’s a load of codswallop.
I could practise hitting a tennis ball over the net from now until Christmas but without someone giving me pointers on how to improve my hold and demonstrating how better to follow through with each stroke, it’s very unlikely I’d make any considerable improvements.
And writers are just the same.
How are we to improve our craft without feedback? This is why I believe so strongly in giving and receiving feedback and what follows are the Nettie Thomson Guidelines on Critiques.
First, let’s look at asking someone to critique for you.
Always make sure you ask someone you trust. Make sure it’s someone you like and who you believe likes you too. The last thing you want is to give someone who has a grudge the excuse to tear you to shreds and damage your confidence as a writer.
Be sure to say what kind of critique you are asking for.
I love it when someone I trust points out all my typos, continuity mistakes and plot holes. You may not, so be sure you make clear exactly what sort of feedback you are after: do you want proofing for typos and grammar only or would you rather the reader explores the strengths and weaknesses of your characters and story line?
If your reader has agreed to look at your 100,000 word novel, please don’t ask them what they think about it after a day or even a week. Reading a piece of writing at the level required for proper feedback can take time and your colleague may have other boring commitments like a job, family and writing or their own to consider too.
When you receive comments on your work, take a deep breath and remember to take them in the spirit they were given. You asked for feedback and it’s better someone you trust tells you now if there are problems with your novel than you send out something substandard to agents and publishers.
Choose which ‘improvements’ to take on board. If several people tell you the same thing, it’s probably safe to accept they are right. Otherwise, these comments are only one person’s opinion. Think about what they have said and decide yourself whether you agree.
And now, let’s look at critiquing the work of others.
Don’t agree to give feedback to someone if you don’t think you have the time to do it. It’s always hard to say no but any trust you have built up will be chipped away if you let the writer down.
Ask what kind of feedback the writer wants. They may want you to concentrate on character development only or give a detailed page-by-page response.
Don’t think that you can’t give feedback just because you are unpublished. You are a reader and have a good idea about what makes characters believable and plots work. These are the kinds of things your colleague needs your response to.
Don’t just say, ‘I don’t like the main character.’ Tell the writer why. Is he too one-dimensional, is he inconsistent? Always be sure to give a reason for you criticism.
Tell the writer what was good about his work. There is nothing more dispiriting than a list of all the things you have done wrong. Sugar the pill with as much honest praise as you can.
So there you have it.
How do you feel about critiques? I’d love to hear your opinions.