Thursday, August 9, 2012

Criticism vs. Critique

Yesterday when I posted a tongue-in-cheek version of what my critique group was like the night before, I had some interesting emails directed toward me.  I am always fine with my blog readers emailing me and I have made some great friends from this blog, but I wanted to clarify something.  Yesterday's post was an exaggeration.  I was trying to be funny.  I love my critique group and they have made my writing stronger, there's no doubt about that.

Today I'd like to talk to you about the difference between criticism and critique.  These two are very different things and sometimes I think that there aren't enough discussions on what a critique really is.

I think in our world today criticism (of pretty much everything) is prevalent.  To me, criticism is negative evaluation without offering solutions.  I can criticize my own work pretty well.  Those negative voices are only too eager to tell me everything that's wrong, not only with my manuscript, but with me as a writer.  And I think that some writers/reviewers/people in general criticize others easily under the guise of giving feedback, when in truth, it is not helpful to receive only criticism.

For me, critique is evaluation that can stay objective and constructive.  It can be positive as well as negative in letting the writer know what isn't working in the manuscript as well as what is working.  It doesn't get personal, but it is supportive of the  writer.  A good critique is still encouraging for the writer.

I have some wonderful people in my life who are very willing to evaluate my manuscripts and tell me what's wrong with it, but we also laugh a lot along the way.  When our critique group was over that night, one of the group said how much her abs would ache the next day from laughing so hard.  And it's true.  We laugh a lot when we're together.  And when they're critiquing my work, or when I get an evaluation back, I sit there feeling very grateful to have these amazing people take time out of their busy lives to help me.  After a critique, I usually feel completely ready to dive in again and put their suggestions to use or fix what didn't work.  It's a good feeling.

So, in the choice between criticism and critique, I hope you know that for our editors on First Page Friday and for me personally as a writer, we want you to find solid critiques and helpful advice on this blog to make you feel encouraged as a writer and eager to make your work stronger.  Because, for example, I think we all learn from one another on First Page Fridays and when one writer is strengthened through critique, I think everyone in the writing community can be inspired.  We're all on a journey with struggles and triumphs and there are opportunities all around us to help others along the way.  I know I'm sure glad for the people around me who reach out for my hand.

My mother-in-law had a saying on her fridge years ago that went something like this, "Be a contributor not a criticizer."  I think that is a true statement.  Critiquing contributes something to the writer---it helps them.  That's the bottom line.

So, let's all be contributors.  Your writer friends will thank you.  And so will I.  (Especially if you're critiquing my work!)


KaseyQ said...

I agree! I think your definitions separating the two are perfect. I would add as well that when you critique, you have to be careful to distinguish between something that is a matter of personal preference and something that is actually grammatically/literarily incorrect. When I am critiquing others’ work, I often have to stop myself from correcting something that isn’t really wrong- I just think wording it differently would sound better, or something along those lines. Sometimes those things are helpful, but you don’t want them to get in the way of the things that really need to be changed.

Something I try to remember as a writer is that when people are critiquing my work they are trying to make it better (I’m one of those people who will hand someone my manuscript and then cover my head with a pillow like I’m hiding from a horror movie). I know that when I critique others’ work it is exciting for me because I can see such potential in their writing and I love the opportunity to help them make it shine. I just have to remember that they have the same goal in mind for me!

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Kasey, that's a really good point and I agree. It's easy to let personal preference creep in! And I love your idea of keeping in mind that people who critique us can also see our potential and want to help us shine. What a great visual :)

Debra Erfert said...

I think I only had one person actually criticize something I've written without actually giving me good solid critiques. I think over time every writer as been on the back side of that slap, and they quickly become sensitive enough before they let loose with a swing of their own. I know I try very hard to be as kind as possible, and praise the writer along with any pointers I might be able to give, although sometimes it doesn't balance out as much as I'd like it to.

Your post yesterday dripped of sarcasm. I know of a couple other writers who can out-sarcasm you with their self-depracating wit that at times I do worry about them, but I so enjoyed reading Word count Wednesday. I'm sorry others took it so seriously.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Thanks, Debra. *hugs* You know, it's so true that once you've felt the sting of sarcasm, it does make you more sensitive of dishing it out. Both in life and in writing I think.

Tracy Krauss said...

Well said! This is so true about any art form. I teach art and one of the things I try to instill is the ability to critique an artwork. At first students think this means 'criticizing' but this could';t be farther from the truth. A good critique talks about STRENGTHS and weaknesses, so that you can become a better... artist, writer, actor, musician ... whatever.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Thanks, Tracy! When I was in college I took an art class and the teacher made us draw acorn squash for an entire semester (I'm not even kidding) and we would pin up our drawings on the wall for "critiques" and honestly I hated that class and didn't draw for a while after that because of the criticism from that exercise. It was awful! What a great teacher you must be for encouraging and teaching what a true critique is to your students.

Debra Erfert said...

I meant to say that I love sarcasm in writing, really I do. I think it's funny. You can have such vivid descriptions when writing sarcastically. I bought a mothers day short story compilation recently that is almost all sarcastically written. If you can't laugh at yourself, then the world would be pretty dull, I think.

C. Michelle Jefferies said...

Thank you for that post. I might have to post a link here for later.

I can't tell you how many times I have gotten pages back from some group where it's a criticizm not a critique or the person's only suggestion is how they would have written it. Worse when someone doesn't understand your style and spends the whole ten pages commenting on how to fix that.

I wish everyone knew the difference or just believed that life is easier if you're not constantly being critical of it.

Jordan McCollum said...

Hm... So you go around telling people I'm mean, and then people email you to tell you I'm mean, and then you hex my Kindle?

Who's mean?

Seriously, I thought your post yesterday was very funny, but I was there so it was probably easier for me to see what was exaggeration.

I've had criticism and critiques, and even critiques that are so light they're not helpful. (Two typos in three chapters???) Actually, a while ago (when I'd been the victim or more bad advice and unkind critics than good critiques), I came up with a list of "How to be totally unhelpful as a critique partner." There are so many ways!

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

I totally agree, Michelle.

Jordan, I didn't hex your kindle. It was just a universal karma thing---be mean to my books and other books revolt including books on Kindle. Haha!

Britney Gulbrandsen said...

You described this perfectly!

Not too long ago, I had someone say something about my work that was definitely criticism. And it hurt. Looking back on the comment a bit later, I noticed that with just a few additional words added and a couple taken it out, it could have become critique that would have pointed out what wasn't working in an uplifting way, and also offered a solution to fix it.

Criticism hurts, critique helps...even if both are pointing out the same problem in your work!

Angie said...

I find good crtiques make me excited to improve the story. Criticism makes me want to curl up and weep. So thankful for good critiquers.