the problem with critiquing

ever asked a friend to critique your work? ever been asked to critique a friend’s work? ever ended a friendship over a critique?

it’s hard to gauge one’s writing personality, even if it’s someone you know really well.

i, for example, despite it (i.e. hate) when a friend critiques my work and only says positive things. i usually have to beat it out of someone to name something negative, when i know for a fact there have to be things that can be (much) improved upon. because what it comes down to is not that i’m THAT good of a writer that there’s nothing to be changed (because i’m not), but that they are afraid of hurting my feelings.

my feelings, though, don’t get hurt that easily, and especially not when it’s about my writing. i’d rather know exactly what’s wrong so that i can make it better. but i understand not everyone’s that way.

one time, a friend of mine asked me to critique a short story of his. i pulled no punches and was very honest, but i wasn’t brutal about it. the basics of his story were good. not all of the execution was. so i sent him a lot of notes on suggestions – making sure to emphasize the parts that i liked – and that was that.

i never heard back from him. well, not about that anyway. we’re still friends, but i’ve noticed he’s never sent me a revised version of the story nor has he asked for my critiquing again.

i didn’t feel that i was brutal but was very fair. but i suppose i underestimated his sensitivity.

another time, a very good friend self-published his first novel. i was excited to read it because this is a guy who i actually consider a very good writer and so i was eager to enjoy the fruits of his labor. he even said he wanted my thoughts on it once i was finished.

again, the basics of the book were good: strong story, good leading character, some great moments throughout. but it was also rife with editing mistakes and beginner-ish type language. i thought to myself, “i know he can do better than this – so what happened?” the only thing i can figure is that he was just eager and excited to have a physical book in his hand to say, “i wrote this,” and rushed the process. so to this day, i haven’t decided how to respond to him without hurting his feelings – especially since he spent a good amount of his own money to self-publish and print.

it can be hard to accept critique, i know. but i’ve learned it can also be really hard to give it out. i never intend to hurt anyone’s feelings and if it’s a written critique, i usually read my own words through multiple times, asking, “am i being unfair? am i being mean? am i being too harsh?” and if the answer is “yes” to any of those questions, i go back and amend.

maybe i just am a mean critiquer (not a word, i know), because i don’t mind being critiqued. one of many reasons i’m glad i married my wife is that though she is not a writer herself, she is able to recognize good writing and is very fair in her critiques. when she read the novel i’m working on, she gave some very insightful feedback on what she liked and what just didn’t work. i’ve gone back and re-written several sections because once i heard her view, i was like, “holy cow – she’s right. that doesn’t make sense at all – i need to change that!”

i think from now on when i am asked to critique (if ever again), i will have to let the individual know that i will be very upfront and give them the option of retracting their request. maybe that will help. or maybe i just need to be a nicer person. both are probably true.


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