Why Critiquing Others Helps You

Photo credit: cellar_door_films on Flickr
I’ve written in the past about the necessity of critique partners and why it’s so important to get your work critiqued, but it has occurred to me recently that I never really discussed the other side of the coin: that is, why it’s important to critique as well as getting critiqued.

You see, as those of you who follow me on Twitter probably know, I’ve been spending a lot of time as of late checking out pitch critique boards and contests. It’s been a lot of fun (and time consuming, but so worth it, you guys) and not just because I’ve had my work looked at.

Because the truth is this: while it’s extraordinarily helpful to get your work critiqued, it’s just as valuable to take the time to critique others.

The thing is, most writers who participate in critique boards and contests take the time to crit other entries mostly for a pay-it-forward/trading critiques type thing. What many of them don’t realize is that by critiquing other writers’ work, they’re actually learning just as much as they do from a critique of their own work.

While critiquing, you learn:

  • What works. You’re going to read writing that you absolutely love. Words that you wish you had put there—sentences that you envy and premises that make you second guess yourself. By taking the time to identify exactly what it is that attracts you to that sentence or paragraph or whatever it is, you’re teaching yourself why it works so that you can then apply it to your own writing. 

  • What doesn’t work. On the flip side, you’re going to read a lot of writing that doesn’t grab you. Writing that reminds you of when you first started writing or of a book that you didn’t really enjoy. When critiquing, you have to identify these spots—but even more importantly, you have to really think about what could be done to improve it. You have to figure out why it’s not working (or at least why you’re having a negative reaction to it) so that you can tactfully explain why it didn’t work for you.

    And guess what? You’re learning again. 

  • What others are and aren’t responding to. The most interesting bit of participating in public critiques is seeing how others responded to someone else’s work. Sometimes a line that you loved will be a line that someone else found confusing. Sometimes that first paragraph that you found dull someone else thought was beautifully written. This is not only a great reminder of the meaning of subjectivity, but when you start noticing patterns among the responses (and you will), it really draws attention to the most noticeably successful and unsuccessful elements of writing. 

Moral of the story is this: even if you don’t have something ready for critiquing, it’s still incredibly advantageous to participate in critiques. It’s a learning experience for everyone involved and I promise you’ll learn some lessons about writing that would have been much more difficult for you to glean on your own.

Have you ever participated in a critique board or contest? What other benefits of critiquing someone else’s writing can you think of?


Angela Ackerman said...

Too funny -- I just finished up writing about this for my critiquing workshop on Monday. :) We are totally on the same page. Critiquing is the smartest thing a person can do to shorten the learning curve!

Ava Jae said...

That's a good point about public critiquing. I've found that other people's critiques makes me pay more attention to certain things (which is why, I think, a lot of people sometimes start noticing the same thing), but if I don't have a problem with said thing or I don't find it that noticeable, I just don't mention it. That being said, I imagine it definitely has an influence and that's something you have to keep in mind when receiving critiques. But all things considered, still worth it IMO. :)

Ava Jae said...

Sounds like we're on the same wavelength! And I agree--there really isn't much of a downside to critiquing.

Peter Reynard said...

Nicely said. One of the revelations I had while writing is that the filler stuff that starts and ends a scene or connects them together is hard. I started to repeat myself a lot ending scenes with "and then they went home" or starting them with "The next day..." and it was interesting to read other writers to see how they deal with it.

Of course, the what doesn't work is helpful if you are a harsh critique of your own writing. It helps to see that sometimes you are not as bad as you think you are.

Robin Red said...

I'm critiquing someone's work right now, and it's a little nerve-wracking. I feel too critical and harsh, and I want to be honest, but I keep throwing in little compliments here and there to keep the person's spirit up.

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Peter! The ability to learn from another writing's work is one of the great benefits of critiquing. I also like your point about being too hard on yourself--sometimes we need an outside source to gently let us know we're better than we think. :)

Ava Jae said...

The key to a good critique is balance. I wrote a post on how to give a fair critique a little while ago that I could give you the link to, if you're interested.

Robin Red said...

Yes, please :)

Ava Jae said...

Here you are: How to Give a Fair Critique. :)

Sylvia Porter-Hall said...

This was a great post. I think having a critique partner is definitely a smart thing for a writer to include in his/her quest to become better. I wish I could say that I have a critique person, but I don't. I have found that people I know don't seem to be interested in being there to be my second pair of eyes. This is unfortunate because we all could use a 'fresh' pair of eyes at some point, especially when we've been staring at our work for hours and can no longer see the flaws. I do receive very positive feedback on my blogs but nothing in the way of 'critique' which would be very helpful. Thank you so much for sharing this helpful piece.

Ava Jae said...

Hi Sylvia! Thanks so much! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I've actually written a couple posts on where to find critique partners and how to choose them that you may find helpful:

5 Places to Find Critique Partners

How to Choose Critique Partners

I hope this helps and I wish you all the best in your search for CPs! :)

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