If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you may remember that I went to Clarion 2017. One of the most common discussions I’ve had about it since then has been with people who regret that due to a lot of reasons, they will never be able to attend. It’s not really possible to recreate that experience without taking six weeks to hang out with strangers to write, it is possible to do some of the same work. One of the biggest things is being able to critique your fellow writers’ work. Here are a few things to consider while critiquing.
Consider the awesome
When critiquing, I try my best to find something awesome about everything I read. This can be kind of hard sometimes, at least for me. Not because the awesome isn’t there, because there’s always something awesome there. No, for me, the hardest part is always that I get annoyed about little things that are wrong. The same happens when I’m reading my own work. So I try to focus on the awesome and delightful things. And it’s really important for me, as a writer, to hear those as well. Not just to make sure I don’t remove them, but to hear that I’m doing something right. It can be really easy to forget that in the heat of revision. Mary Robinette Kowal teaches this as her “ABCD method”.
Critique as much as you can
The other thing that’s really important to me as a critiquer, and as a writer using critiques to develop my writerly brain, is to do a lot of critiquing. At Clarion, we went through some 80 stories or story skeletons in those 6 weeks. We read about 17 stories every week but the first which was more of a generative week. I’ll admit that it’s really hard to keep up anything like that pace in the outside world, where there’s day jobs and all kinds of other ways to spend your time. I certainly haven’t been. But I try to sign up to help friends as often as I feel like I can.
Consider the diversity
One of the most important things that I had to learn about critique was to make sure I try to read as widely as I can. I am not a fan of literary fiction in general, but reading the literary work by my Clarion classmates was really helpful for my own fiction in a number of ways. And I’ve tried my best to keep this up after Clarion. Just earlier today I finished the critique of a friend’s poetry novel and the next thing that I’m starting tomorrow is a non-fiction book about nursing in the time of COVID. And when I work on fiction, I try to work on diverse fiction. Because otherwise, it’s too easy to just fall into working on things that are all the same. And if I read and write only things that I find appealing, I’ll never grow as a writer.
Consider the author’s intent
The last thing that was really important for me to learn is an offshoot of the previous. It was really important for me to learn to consider what the author wanted to do with their work. Not knowing how to do this is going to make working on your own intentions harder. And honestly, the only way I’ve found to practice this is to read a lot of different kinds of things. It is really hard, y’all. I can’t say that I’m really entirely proficient at this yet, but I’m trying to practice.
And that, my friends, is where I stand on the matter. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a friend’s book to critique.