I talked briefly about finding a suitable critique partner in my last post. To follow that up, this post is about how to critique and receive criticism.
Whenever I'm working with a CP, I rarely let my feelings get hurt. Rarely. I'm not saying never. I'm human, after all.
I didn't always have thick skin. There was a time I would have been fighting back tears if someone said my work was anything less than wonderful. This was before I spent 5 years at art school and before I'd ever wrote a single chapter.
The bee represents Savannah College of Art & Design's mascot. At first it sounds a little silly, the bee. Why not a wasp or a hornet? The reason behind the bee, as I have been told, is that a bee "shouldn't" be able to fly based on its body weight and the size of its wings. Apparently, the competition doesn't expect artists to be good at sports. Thus the bee. The bee that shouldn't be able to fly is equivalent to the artist who shouldn't be able to excel in athletics.
Now, I have never been any good at sports, but I like to think although I hold a degree in Fashion Design, I can still become a great writer. Part of this is utilizing my resources: critique partners, how-to books/articles and interpreting critiques.
Giving good critique:
First let's focus on the no-no's my SCAD professors taught me. This applies to critiquing a drawing or painting or a manuscript.
Don't say, "I like it," or "I don't like it," EVER. This isn't helpful. Remedy this by saying "I liked it because..." Let the writer know why you found such and such strong about their writing, or why it was weak. Also, be careful about where and how you use words like weak, boring and terrible.
Talk about the elements. As in visual arts, there are elements in the written word. Setting, style, voice, characterization, to name a few. If you are having trouble putting your feelings into words, refer to the elements of writing and ask yourself how well did the writer fulfill each of these elements.
Let the writer know if they lost your interest and at exactly what point. Sometimes in our critique group we say, "I would stop reading at this point," or, "I got lost the last two pages." We all have pretty thick skin in our group, but even so, we still need to answer the "why?" Was the narrative rambling? Were the characters' actions/reactions boring? Or, if the MS held your attention hostage at some point, highlight the section and say something like, "Good pacing. More of this throughout the entire scene would enhance it." Be sure to let the writer know exactly why it held your attention.
Talk. There was nothing worse during a studio critique than coming to a person who had nothing to say about my work. If there's no criticism, there must be something positive you can comment on. I'm not saying spoil the writer with praise, but say something along the lines of, "Nothing pulled me out of the story. I almost forgot I wasn't reading a published novel."
Now, let's talk about receiving criticism. First of all, be thankful that this person took time out of their life to dedicate to reading your MS. Keep in mind the point of this is to pinpoint where your novel needs improvement. No one writes perfectly right off the bat. One of the biggest parts of writing is revising. In my opinion, one of the biggest parts of creating art, is erasing and re-drawing. Or in my case, ripping out seams and re-sewing. Before you ask someone to critique your work, be sure you are ready to delete sentences, even entire chapters and re-write them. This is never easy, but overtime you'll see the importance of it.
If you disagree or don't understand a comment, discuss it with your CP. Get a second opinion if need be. You don't have to take every piece of advice. If you are questioning a criticism, the best thing to do is have a second CP look at the area in question without letting them know what the previous CP said. If they have the same feedback, then you probably need to suck it up and make some changes.
Don't let it get to you. You don't have to change a thing, but wouldn't you rather fix the issues now instead of getting slammed on eBook reviews?
Once again, all of this is only relevant if you and your CP are compatible. Choose someone who regularly shops in your aisle at the book store, someone who writes at the same level, and someone who wants you to succeed.