Austin SCBWI Meeting – Applying the Golden Rule to Critique Partnerships

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Critique unto others as you would have them critique unto you.

Today was the monthly SCBWI -Austin meeting and it focused on critiques – a timely topic given my last post. The speaker was Bradley Wilson, of Yellow Bird Editors.

After the jump you’ll find my notes from the session. I hope they prove useful to you – I think there were some great tips!

Brad prefaced the discussion by saying that these are just his opinions, and that if you’re in a critique group that is working, stick with what works.

We started off by discussing why we need critique partnerships. Attendees gave a variety of reasons: to have new eyes look at your work, for encouragement, to flesh out your story, to get diversity of opinion, and because it’s cheaper than freelance editors (said by one!).

Brad touched on the difference between critique partners vs. loved ones, agents and editors. Loved ones can’t really approach your writing with detachment and the lens through which someone views your work differs when they’re trying to make money off of your work (i.e., agents who want to sell your work will give different feedback from someone who has no vested interest).

You should work on being your ideal critique partners by critiquing others. You can find critique groups through:

  • Open groups
  • Critique partner registries
  • SCBWI blueboards
  • Online groups (ex: critters.org)

The larger the critique group, the more you need rules. Those rules should include:

  • Schedule of exchange
  • Method (online, face to face, read aloud, combo)
  • Quantity of exchange
  • Above all, don’t overcommit

Brad noted that having someone read your story aloud is particularly useful as you can see where a first-time reader stumbles and makes notes accordingly.

Give and Take Has to Balance (Between the Critique Partners)

  • Similar skill levels
  • Similar publishing/professional goals
  • Similar age markets
  • Similar genres
  • Maybe even similar tastes

Get in the Box (When You’re Receiving a Critique)

  • Don’t talk during critique
  • Don’t forget that critiques are only opinions
  • Never defend your work (if intentions are unclear on the page then you need to know that)
  • Take notes, especially of any consensus opinions

When You Get Out of the Box

  • Say thank you
  • Ask for clarifications
  • Never defend your work
  • Bring in new stuff (keep writing new stories; it keeps it fresh and interesting for your critique partners and keeps you writing)

Critiquing Others

  • It’s not what you say but how you say it.
  • Brad used a quote from Andrew Burt (founder of critters.org) – rather than trying to persuade them about something, you’re hoping they’ll hear what you’re saying

How You Say It Matters

  • Always start with something positive
  • Don’t forget critiques are just opinions, especially yours
  • Don’t try to sound like an authority
  • Critique the creation, not the creator (avoid 2nd person)
  • Be specific and constructive
  • Stay on schedule (goes to maintaining balance so 1 person doesn’t get a 45 minute critique while another gets 5)

One of the attendees also noted that everyone in the critique group should be well-read in the genre.

So there you have it. Very constructive meeting…now off to do some critiques!

 

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