Sunday, January 15, 2012

Are you an encouraging critic?

When I was in high school, my absolute FAVORITE thing to do in my advanced English class was to write essays. I loved writing about topics given to me by the teacher that were meant to challenge and inspire. I often heard my peers complain, "We have to write a 1500 word WHAT?". I never, ever counted my words to see how much more I had left to write. I loved it!
I know, I'm weird.

However, there was another element to writing essays that I treasured. It didn't happen all that often, but I really looked forward to the times where our teachers would add, "After your first draft is written, you will exchange essays with the person next to you for Peer Review...". Fantastic! That meant someone who was experiencing the same things in life that I was experiencing, who shared the same feelings that I felt, who could easily give me good pointers because they themselves knew ME, would be critiquing my essay. Yes!

When I was given an essay to review, I tried my best to be encouraging. Even if I could barely understand what was written, I went ahead and gave them the pointers I felt they'd need to get a better grade. Sometimes, I got great feedback, and sometimes I got none. It didn't matter. I loved it all the same.

There was one time, though, where a very intelligent girl (the Valedictorian-type who went on to get several degrees from several Ivy leagues before her 30th birthday) probably ran her red pen totally dry on one of my essays. She ripped that thing apart, and had nothing good to say in the end. Instead of leaving me encouraged and motivated, she left me feeling self conscious, worthless, and stupid.

I am now a part of a critique group with four other INCREDIBLE women. We meet once a month, usually in places that stay open until 9pm- Panera, Starbucks, Whole Foods, etc. We like to submit our manuscripts to one another the Friday before we meet, so that way we can bring our opinions to the table after each manuscript is read aloud. I just joined the group in the fall of 2011, and let me tell you, I. Was. TERRIFIED. I just knew they were all these snooty, refined, perfect women who had their junk together, and had ALL been published. I came to my first meeting expecting my manuscript to be painted in red... four different times.

Know what I was met with instead? Kindness. Encouragement. Love. And truthfully? I have gotten nothing less with each meeting. They are uplifting. No snootiness, no perfection, and believe me, they'd all be the last to say that they have their junk together! I've learned a lot, and have left each meeting with a different feeling. Once I left feeling like I had finally done it! Once I left feeling confused. Once, I even left discouraged. But I can assure you, it wasn't because of what they said.

Look, no one is going to leave any critique "sesh" feeling like they are the all-time, most awesome, king of all things written. If they were that, they wouldn't need critique groups! But what matters is HOW they are critiqued. That makes a giant difference! Ideas need to be bounced off each other instead of forced onto each other.

Here's what I mean:

Instead of- "Look, this sentence makes ZERO sense. I don't get it. You need to change it."

Try- "I think I understand what you're getting to, but, I wonder if we did it this way if it might work
          better. What do you think?"

What feels better?

We as writers are in a tough spot, no one needs to tell us that. We are faced with a lot of complications ranging from time to write, to tough markets, all the way to not having much support from the people around us (except for those lucky few, maybe). The best thing we can do for ourselves is encourage each other. Yes, we are competition for one another. But I think the moment we see that we're all out for the same cause, will be the moment we can achieve a lot for the children who want/need new, fresh, inspiring stories!

So, I'll ask you, what kind of critic are you?

20 comments:

  1. I think I'll steal this and hit share!!! Awesome post...I wish we all could critique this way. Thanks Bethany. :p

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    1. No, thank YOU for being so encouraging!! ;)

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  2. Wonderful post, Bethany. It's so true - how someone suggests changes can make all the difference between feeling like you can do it or feeling like it's a lost cause. I find the writing community in general to be supportive and kind, but there are always those who don't express themselves as well as they might. We, unfortunately, have one of those in our group and we often have to remind each other not to take her words personally - it's just the way she is!

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    1. Thank you! Yeah, it's rough when you have "one of those" on your hands. It makes it difficult for you to keep encouraging THEM. But I think(I hope) eventually they might catch on. I like the communities we have all formed since November. And I agree, we're all very supportive! That has definitely kept me going!

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    2. What happens when you are married to one of those? =)

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  3. Bethany, thank you for sharing this. I just posted on my blog about one of my recent critiques. I agree with Jennifer! And Jennifer, you are an encouraging critic :) .

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    1. Ooh, I'll have to swing by your blog and check it out. You're very sweet to say that Cheryl. You've always been a big help with mine too! From another critique group, A few bad critiques came back that made me feel awful. But even then I sucked it up and took away the good out of it. (and also made a mental note * never exchange anymore with Cruella Deville

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    2. I saw it, Cheryl! And that sounded rough. I'm proud of you for seeing it as a good critique... I'm not sure I would have. I practically have PTSD from that girl in HS! haha
      And I agree with you, Jennifer is the best! :)

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  4. What a wonderful post, Bethany! Thank you! I have a meeting with my Critique Group on Wednesday. We meet once a month, too. And we can all use a little reminder to check in and see what kind of critic we are being. Thank you!

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  5. Great post and a good reminder that writers need to build each other up! Your group is lucky to have you. :)

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  6. I would hope to think I am ALWAYS honest while at the same time encouraging! I really enjoyed this post, Bethany!

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  7. Great post! I'm curious those of you who have dealt with "one of those" have you taken that person aside and talked to him/her about it? Some people just aren't aware what they are saying is hurtful. I had to this with one of my friends (she thought she was being funny when really she was being mean).

    I always loved to write essays in school as well(much better than taking a test)!

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    1. For me, I haven't gotten to that point. I have some great women in my group. But that's a great question! I agree with you wholeheartedly!

      Writing essays is WAY better than tests! ;)

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  8. Bethany! I wished we lived closer! I would love an encouraging critique partner! Actually, I would love to have a critique partner in general, but if I had to choose...you seem pretty ideal!

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    1. Aww! Well, if you're interested, you can email me ANYTHING, and I'll be more than happy to give you some opinions! My email- bethany.telles@ymail.com
      I'm serious, feel free!

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  9. I'm jealous! I would LOVE to have a critique group with real, live people, but alas, I'm all alone here in Italy. The good news is that I've hooked up with an online writing buddy in Texas, who I met through 12x12, a group that is full of wonderful, supportive, talented writers. It has been such a blast to trade ideas with her, and while we are both encouraging and delicate, we're also honest. Luckily, we have the same sense of humor, so we can laugh at ourselves and each other with no hurt feelings. I do not understand why some people have the need to be cruel.

    That said, I do think there is a tightrope to walk between being encouraging and being dishonest. I'm curious - what do you do if you run across someone whose writing you feel is really not up to snuff? Isn't it difficult to critique that person without being dishonest? For example, when I was a theater student, I called out one of my profs for telling me I was "profound" in an acting moment when I was actually thinking about lunch. I thought she was completely dishonest - if I suck, I want to know about it. Thoughts?

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    1. Couldn't agree with you more! That is a very thin line, and if you cross it the wrong way you could definitely risk ruining someone's confidence. I think if something is truly terrible, telling them it's incredible is doing that person a disservice. I might take them aside, or take them out to lunch all together. There's a way to do it, but it IS scary. I have a hard time when I think something is awful, but everyone else says it's great. Speaking up, as a novice writer, is where I get squeamish!

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  10. Great post, Bethany!

    Perfectly said :)

    I've only started critiquing last fall, too :) I was so scared lol, but was soon feeling good and had a feeling of I can't wait to get revising!

    I'm now in 4 critique groups and they are all wonderful women, I'm so lucky and thankful for each one.

    have a great day :)

    Love,
    Denise of Ingleside, PEI

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  11. Thanks!!
    You ARE lucky! Keep the encouragement going!

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  12. Great critique partners can make all the difference in the world! I HOPE I'm an encouraging one! At least that's how I really try to be.

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