Friday, November 8, 2013

Your Friends Are Incapable of Critiquing Your Writing

Almost everything that comes out of your friends' mouths about your writing is completely and utterly useless, for two simple reasons:

1. Your friends are liars.
2. Your friends cannot critique in the first place.

No, I don't mean that your friend are depraved sinners who are trying to deceive you in some nefarious scheme of writing-related ego-inflation. Your friends lie because they like you. Sure, your book is dry as a rock and has serious POV issues and they never made it past page twenty, but they would never, under any circumstance, say that to your face.

The rare friend who actually gives you real feedback on your writing is probably about to be your ex-friend for being a meanie pants who makes up horrible things because you know your writing is fantastic because all of your real friends said so. And since your friends don't want to be your ex-friends, if they have any sense in their heads, they'll keep saying nice things about your writing.

I have been known to lack this sense.

Second, even if your friends (family, or loved ones) genuinely want to help and have a relationship with you where they can actually speak freely of any issues they say in your work, chances are they're no better at writing than you are, much less critiquing. Critiquing is itself a skill--something I've learned the hard way, by slowly struggling to get better at it. A person (even a person with some skill at writing,) may look at a pair of books and say, "I liked this one better than that one," but still not be able to articulate why. Likewise, they may be able to read something you've written and have a vague sense of its position between "BURN IT" and "I'm going to marry your book," but exactly where and why it falls there--much less how to improve things--is far more obtuse. And even relatively good critiquers can fall into the trap of applying their own genre and stylistic preferences to a work that happens to be a different sort of narrative beast.

The best thing I have found, so far, is to find a good group of people (they can even be your friends, if you're lucky!) who can give you good, honest feedback, and learn to listen to that feedback without getting offended, and then take and use what works for you and what helps you achieve the vision you have for your particular work, and leave the rest.

And then, critique in turn, because not only do critique circles not work if people merely take from others but never give, but also because explicitly working out what does and doesn't work in another's piece is a very good way to eventually have the same thoughts penetrate your noggin re: your own work.

Good luck!

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