Right now in my cozy little office I have three different pieces of writing that I’ve been asked to take a look at. One is by my talented young neighbor, Maggie; another is by an acquaintance; and the third piece is by a good friend. Each is very different in form and style — and each in a different stage of completion. I feel honored to be asked for my response and happy to be of service to my fellow writers. But critiquing can be tricky.
After being in a play-writing workshop and writing group for some time now, I’ve come up with an approach that seems to work well, so I thought I’d share a few ideas on this front with you. The real key is courtesy: sharing your responses in a supportive spirit and being as specific as you can be about what works for you and what doesn’t.
Accentuate the positive: My friend and co-author Bruce, who’s a PR pro, makes it a point to say something positive right upfront in any of his communiqués. This is always a sound strategy when communicating: it helps foster receptivity and connection. So when responding to someone’s writing, it’s a wise idea to single out a few aspects that you really enjoyed and worked for you and highlight them right up front. It may be snappy dialogue, or pacing, or the way the writer used foreshadowing to set the stage. Honest enthusiasm is the way to go.
Respond as a reader: I always like to convey my overall impression of a piece — how it hit me emotionally when I read it. What mood did it convey to me? What kind of energy did I feel on the page? Was the end satisfying? Did the characters’ actions seem consistent? I think this kind of “global” impression can really be helpful.
Be specific: Whenever it seems useful, I offer some specific ideas or suggestions on what works for me — and what doesn’t. Usually, I include these under a heading like “Some Ideas” or “Some Thoughts.”
There are so many ways to be helpful. One member of my writing group annotates a draft with numbers and then attaches a sheet highlighting each point he wants to make — he’s super organized and so insightful! Any ideas you can share on constructive critiquing?