As a writer, I know the importance of receiving a good critique from an honest eye. I appreciate the comments I get, the suggestions on how to make my work better, perhaps too much. When I’m receiving critiques, I often find myself skipping over the complimentary stuff, almost ignoring it completely and focus on the “may improve” suggestions. That isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate the occasional “Good Job” written on the manuscript, but it’s a secondary desire to improving my writing.
This, unfortunately, has caused problems for me, mainly when I try to critique someone else’s writing. I try to give those I critique what I want most–ideas on improvements. I will, on occasion, put a “Great Job” on the page, but those are extremely rare, mainly because I understand that the best way to improve is to get critiques and work on improving the area of confusion. This has left some people disheartened, even some who I believe to be talented writers. As an MFA student, I am required to give critiques to classmates–a mixture of good and how to improves. Although I’m good at identifying what needs improved, I really have problems thinking up the positives in the work to mention. I’m not sure why, other than I’ve never really focused my attention on the positives I received during my reviews.
I can absolutely love a story but when I write something up, I’ll start listing the negatives, what bothered me about it and what I thought needed changed–even if what I’m reviewing has already been published. This works out for me as well, since that lets me know what kind of things I need to avoid if I’m going to write a book in a similar genre. Then, when I’m done, the few positives I listed beside the (possible) super-long list of negatives appear miniscule, pitying and/or may be invisible.
Recently I’ve read a book where the author pointed out that identifying the positives and negatives in a work can be beneficial to ones writing. The negatives I’ve already mentioned, will let me know what to avoid, what I don’t like, etc. The positives, however, will let me know what I need to do more often. For example, I nailed a description on page 32. By knowing that, I can try using the same method used to get that description to create other great ones. In that way, I’m improving skills that I’m already decent at, not just improving things that I’m poor at.
With that realization, I’m hoping that I can write up a more balanced review/critique every time I write one. I don’t imagine this will be easy. I’m almost blind to the positives in someone’s work, especially if the piece isn’t something that makes me go “BEST BOOK EVER!!!” But I think that learning to balance the positives and the negatives in a review or critique will serve both the writer and I better. I may need help reaching this goal. And if my dear readers have time, I would appreciate a nudge whenever I focus too much on the negative. Remind me that I want to try thinking up more positives. Lately, I feel like the latest books I’ve reviewed have come across as negative, when in fact I may have enjoyed the book. And if you have any questions as to whether I liked a book or not, let me know. I’d be more than happy to clear that up.
So, don’t do what I’ve done for years, ignore the positive and learn from the negative. The positives in your writing could make you a stronger writer too.
What about you? Do you focus on the negative? The positive? What about when the comments are from someone else and directed at your own work?