An Annual Rant about the Art of Critique

Critiquing has an etiquette all its own, but way too many people have never been taught those manners or do not care to follow them. As a result, they impact their own character. They will argue that character does not play into the equation; however, critiquing, like any human interaction, comes with best practices.

The person who boldly steps outside those rules is often remembered, and not in a good way. Worse, even though they might have the best of intentions, the party upon which they heap their criticisms will not only remember them in a bad light, but will also not heed the criticism. Thus, time wasted for all.

Excellent and famous writers recall fondest memories of mentors. And they often remain attached to those mentors over the years. That is because there is a fondness infused into the lesson. There is a respect for the writer woven into the delivery.

If we’ve learned anything during these times of pandemic, it should be a respect for humankind. After a year of teeth gnashing and condemnation of anything spoken in public, we are beginning to feel like we might be settling down a tad. That effort should include critiquing.

I recently read a piece called . I want to wholeheartedly cheer about the first suggestion!

“Unsolicited feedback isn’t critique, it’s criticism. Call it the first rule of Write Club: if the writer didn’t ask for your feedback, it’s unlikely that your input will be helpful.”

Several times a year, someone will email me and tell me what I’ve written wrong. From one of my books or an article in a newsletter, someone I’ve never heard from before will boldly say, “You got this wrong.” Nothing about whether they enjoyed anything of the writing or if I’ve offered anything positive. Just flat condemnation. I can honestly say I hope I never hear from these people again. That’s my first impression of them.

However, the person who asks, “Hey, can I offer some criticism on something you wrote?” is respecting me as a person and a writer. They are offering me the option. For example, I recently sent out 25 ARCs on my last novel, asking for feedback on the story. One lady asked, “Do you want me to proofread it?” I replied in the negative, because the publisher already had an editor on it.

Other advice in The Gift of Critique was “Focus on what succeeds, not just what fails.” That speaks for itself. The Oreo method is highly underestimated. Envelope corrective criticism with two sides of positive. Otherwise, the constructive criticism will come across as more harsh than necessary.

Bottom line: Mind your manners when critiquing. You’ll be not only heard, but heard more clearly, and remembered for much, much longer.

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