Over the weekend, I designed 3 mockups of my cover and posted them on twitter to see what kind of criticisms I would get from those who cared/were paying attention to me.
I am a graphic designer by trade so I knew a lot of what was wrong with the designs even before I posted them and it is still not really great but I wanted to see if people would pick up on the problems and how they would articulate their thoughts to me.
I reaffirmed some pretty amazing things I learned in Art school about the power of a question and how you can bend people’s reactions by how you ask a question, but the whole point behind the experiment was to help me write this post.
All throughout college, the most important thing we learned was how to properly critique our peers work. Above colour theory, design principles and software technology was the ability to articulate your thoughts about someone else’s work and most importantly to HELP THEM IMPROVE.
Having a critical eye is important but having a desire to help and challenge is really what is useful.
Critiquing is a skill I believe ALL writers should hone to help them become better writers and here are my reasons why:
- It helps you think before you speak – Critiquing is not about blurting out nonsensical or hurtful things to lord power over others. Nor is it the time to paint everything in butterflies and rainbow guts because you’re too scared of hurting people’s feelings. Critiquing is a place to analyze and think carefully about the positives and negatives of a piece of work. The more critiquing you do the faster you’ll be able to come up with helpful suggestions. This also helps your writing by developing the ability to make quick and conscious decisions about the words you are putting down, which in turn saves time on editing.
- It helps you see things for what they really are – Sometimes things just don’t work; they don’t make sense, they aren’t logical or they just don’t fit. The problem comes in when the critique refuses to see these problems for self-serving reasons such as they want a horn-tooting crit of their own, they are too enamored by the hunky main character and lie to themselves about characterization problems or they don’t feel like getting on the Google and checking to see if there really are Grizzly Bears in the prairies. The better you are at seeing (and dealing with) these plot, character and setting problems in other works the easier it becomes to catch yourself doing it. The lying to yourself one is particularly common.
- It helps you be conscious of common mistakes – We all have go-to bad habits that when we see others making them it is annoying and we then become hyper-aware that we do it too. For example, I cannot for the life of me learn how to use apostrophes appropriately so the more I work at noticing apostrophe use in other blogs/books/articles the fewer subconscious errors I make.
- It helps you be more confident in your speech and your decisions – When learning to give a good critique, speaking clearly, confidently and definitively are your three best friends. As a beta reader or Crit Partner we know that our suggestions are nothing more than that… suggestions. That being said, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work so say that. It is not up to you to tell the writer how to fix problems but to simply say that it doesn’t work for this reason. How this helps your writing is that you become more definitive in your decisions for your own book. When you can be concise in what you have to say, it comes out clearer, more confident and more definitive which will show in the quality of the writing. Also, when you allow the author of the work you’re critiquing to retain control of their work and trust them to come up with the answer it will start to convince you that you have the same power over your own work.
- It helps you remember that it is about the writing, not you – The most absolute number one unbreakable rule of successful critiques is CRITIQUE THE WRITING NOT THE WRITER. When you believe in your very heart and soul that it really isn’t about you, it’s about the story, beautiful things happen!
If you have any tips on giving helpful critiques or how critiquing has improved your own writing please feel free to share them!