Critiquing can be tough. My writers’ group is full of amazing authors packed with talent and more and more pieces come in where all I can really spot wrong is the odd typo and maybe an awkward phrase. I was starting to worry that I didn’t have any critiquing skills, and that if I lacked them, how could I ever successfully self-edit?
I’m going to the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival next week (stay with me here, I’m not just running off on a tangent, I swear) but only for workshops during the week. One of those workshops is a fiction writing master class with MJ Hyland. In preparation for that participants send in the first 1,500 words of a short story or novel and everyone else attending critiques it. Critiquing the pieces I’ve been sent so far has taught me something.
Like with my writers’ group some people are really great and there’s not much to say, but some other works are unfocused (the person has a great story, but the plot jumps all over(yes, in the first 1,500 words!)), others have great characters but no story. There are problems – and I can spot them! So I don’t suck at critiquing, it’s just that my writers’ group is too full of talented people(you know who you are ;p ).
So, with these newer, younger writers I’m critiquing now I have choices to make. I can’t go and throw every error they’ve made at them, I might hurt the fragile artistic spirit all of us creative types have. So I have to pick out one or two of the most important things to mention and pass on my knowledge.
I also have to be careful, I don’t want to seem like a know-it-all, after all, I’ll be there to learn too. If I honestly thought I did know it all I wouldn’t be going to a workshop now would I? So I’m walking a thin line between providing as much help as I can without damaging fragile hearts or seeming like a Hermione.
Some of these pieces have a lovely story at their core, just their craft needs polishing and it reminds me that I’m the same. I’ve got a long way to go before I’m where I dream of being, so I have to keep working, keep polishing, and keep critiquing and being critiqued.
These are the things I have learned from critiquing these last few days.