It’s the first day of a new study period for university. I click eagerly through the university website, glancing through the course outline. For my introduction, I have to introduce myself as a character. Well, that’s different. And then…
I have to critique someone else’s introduction.
At once the panic starts to rise. Help! Critique someone’s work? But I’m not very good at writing myself. I don’t know how to give a good critique. I don’t want the other students to hate me for pointing out faults in their work. I’m having a panic attack and I haven’t so much as clicked the mouse yet.
It’s a funny thing, but no one seems to like giving critiques. My course is a creative writing course, and yet everyone is saying ‘Oh your work is wonderful. I love such-and-such about it’, and nothing else. Which is all very nice to hear. I can’t help smiling and feeling just a little bit clever. But at the same time, comments like these aren’t going to make me into a better writer. They’re just going to give me a big head.
So, if I realise that this is not the way to help people, why do I feel bad when I post a critique that both praises and criticizes a piece of writing? I might not have a piece of paper that tells me I’m qualified to help other people with their writing, but I can tell them what didn’t work for me. It’s an opinion, nothing more.
I think that this fear of critiquing someone’s writing comes from fear that I’m going to hurt the other person’s feelings. Even when I’ve spent an hour writing and rewriting the same hundred and fifty words over and over trying to phrase the critique in a way that I hope won’t offend, I’m still worried that I’m going to be making them feel like their work is terrible. I’ve had enough bad days of my own where I think that my writing is terrible to want to give anyone else a day like that.
But saying that everything is perfect, that’s not the way to help anyone improve. If we were all perfect already, why would we be taking this course? So I write and rewrite that critique over and over again, trying to word it just right, trying to gently show the other people where they might improve their writing and make it stronger. Not to say that I’m any good at this. It’s true, I’ve never done this before. But if I truly want to help the other person, I need to show them the good and the bad, in the nicest way possible. Critiques, they don’t seem to be easy things to write, but they are necessary if we're to grow as writers.