When we think of the term ‘critical friendship’ the mind net is immediately cast externally. However that net needs to be cast inwards, as the most important critical friendship to foster is with ourselves.
Not only is it important to have a good critical friendship with ourselves from an editing perspective, it is also needed in order to be a good critical friend to others. If we can critique and edit our own work skilfully, then the same skills will easily transfer when critiquing the work of others.
What can you do to help your effective critical friend to emerge?
- Read with objectivity. That’s probably easier said than done. Once you have written something, poured all your creative emotional soul into it, dump it into a drawer and forget about it for a month, or two. That’s what Stephen King (2000) says to do in his memoir/how to write book ‘On Writing’. If you try to critique your own writing straight away you will just be wasting your time, the emotional attachment is still too high to view the work objectively.
- Relinquish emotional ownership of what you have written. With ownership comes a level of emotional attachment, and if you have emotional attachment to words after you have written them, then you won’t be able to view the writing as objectively as what is needed in order to critique it effectively.
- Read extensively. This will give you an insight into varying styles of writing. Reading many works of varied styles and genres will build your internal frame of reference and better your analytical skills for being an effective critical friend to yourself.
- Be mindful that writing is a subjective experience. Everyone has different ways in which they develop a piece of writing. If discipline works for you, then fine. If it doesn’t, then that’s fine too. Discipline works for science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin, who keeps to a strict writing schedule as discussed in the 2000 Book Magazine interview ‘Portland Trailblazer‘. Le Guin is a fine example of how figuring out what works best for you can help you thrive. Know which method works best for you, and know that it may not be the same way that another writer has approached his/her work. Being mindful of this will allow you to approach others work in a less subjective manner.
Being a critical friend to others is an important aspect of writing. We are the best tools available to ourselves to better our writing. Through the reading and critiquing of ourselves we better our skills to critique others. Also, the viewpoint of an external critical friend is an important piece of the writing puzzle which will help us better the piece of writing we are trying to put together.
Constructive Criticism Checklist
Below are a few starting point questions to ask yourself when critiquing the work of yourself and others:
- Do I have enough time to sit down and give this piece the attention it deserves?
- What are the positive points of the piece?
- What makes the positive points work?
- What are the negative points of the piece?
- How do those negative points not work?
- How could the negative points be altered to work better?
- What do you think the purpose of the piece is? Is this obvious?
- What do you think the theme is? Is this obvious?
- Is the tone of the piece consistent?
- Who is the intended audience? Is the piece written appropriately for such?