First of all, thank you to all the writers of fiction and nonfiction who have read and critiqued my work and allowed me to read and critique theirs. I wouldn’t have made it this far without them. I’ve learned so much from them, no matter from which side of the aisle.
Honestly, though, both giving and receiving critiques can be a bit intimidating. Who am I to give advice to another writer? What do I know? After all, if I knew enough to criticize another’s writing, wouldn’t I be published already? And how do I know that someone giving me advice knows what he’s talking about? What if I follow his advice and then have to unlearn what he’s taught me?
Okay, calm down. You’ve probably read enough literary classics as well as commercial fiction and nonfiction to recognize good writing when you see it. Or bad advice, for that matter. Just remember to refer to The Chicago Manual of Style for assistance with technical issues regarding a novel. And if you haven’t subscribed to a writer’s magazine such as Writer’s Digest or built a nice library of self-help books, get started. Today. A good book to begin with is SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Browne and King.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a close friend who writes, and you believe he has talent, partner with him for critiques. Warning: the friendship should be strong enough to handle the truth, or you may lose a friend. And you may want to set some ground rules regarding tact and constructive criticism, while agreeing not to hold back when a major problem needs to be addressed. In BIRD FACE, Wendy’s best friend, Jennifer, loves her enough to tell her where she’s gone wrong–spoken with kindness, of course. Totally different circumstances, but the same type of friendship is required here.
If you’re not so fortunate to have such a friend–or even if you are–join critique groups available through writing societies and associations, both national and local. I am most familiar with ACFW, American Christian Fiction Writers. Critiquing is handled through email. This is convenient if you’re a recluse, as many writers are. But you may not remain a recluse for long, because even long-distance critique partners often become close friends.
For me, the best part of critiquing is that learning moment when I say, “Why didn’t I think of that (before)?” It can happen as easily when I’m trying to help another writer as when one is helping me. And when it does happen, it’s golden.