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When Is A "Critique" really Criticism?

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

My tales of woe, or, what I have been told:


1. From Gordon Lish, the once (in)famous editor of "The Quarterly."

"YOU COULD BE A WRITER IF YOU GOT SERIOUS"

2. From a professor of "Literary Research"

"YOU DON"T WRITE LIKE A NATIVE SPEAKER."

3. From an instructor of playwriting:

"BEFORE YOU WROTE THIS YOU SHOULD HAVE DECIDED

IF IT WAS A COMEDY OR A DRAMA"

(I guess they never heard of dramedy?)

4. From a short story writing workshop teacher:

"YOUR WRITING IS BLOODLESS"


Was any of this useful to me? No.

The first was mean.

The second was meaningless.

This third was ridiculous coming from a teacher of playwriting.

The fourth was mean, meaningless, and ridiculous.


No doubt you have a list of your own.

So how do we know when criticism is useful?


A good critique should be specific and sincere.

Ask yourself if you feel more encouraged to keep writing or less.


Specificity- Really important. General statements about your work

(“too long,” “too much detail,” “not compelling,” etc.) won’t help

you improve. Examples of specific help: Showing where you can move a section to make the narrative more interesting, or clearer; where you might insert dialogue, where you are being repetitive, where/how to demonstrate the character's personality instead of telling about it.


Note also that when specific suggestions are offered, it indicates that the instructor took real

time with your work.


Sincerity- Means the instructor is trying to help you achieve what you want.

To do so, they need to ask you what you want to achieve! Many do not ask this.

They have to ignore their personal preferences and "get into" your head.


(All I ask is that you think about it.)

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