When I’m not writing, or thinking about writing, or begrudgingly cleaning the house, my life is full of dogs. On occasion I’ll judge dogs, and much of the time I’m expected to produce a written critique of the dogs I judged. Some judge’s critiques are works of art, describing the entry in flights of fancy and glowing terms. The better critiques offer a description in succinct terms, referring to hallmarks of quality in the breed.
On occasion I’ve been asked to evaluate a dog somewhere other than a show, all too often at a gathering of friends where more attention is paid to sampling the host’s wine and beer selection than in depth discussion of dog structure and type. Even when I warn that a request for an honest appraisal will bring that very thing, they insist. Sometimes this can lead to that in depth discussion. Sometimes it heads down an entirely different path. Such as the time a dog of a new breed was paraded in front of me. I turned to the beaming owner and asked if every dog in the breed had a weak rear, since I hadn’t seen a good rear structure yet, including his dog.
He was not amused.
Often when judging writing contests I’ll come across an entry not ready to see the light of day. Since we don’t know the background of the entrant, and we don’t wan to discourage any budding confidence they might have in themselves as writers, any critiques written must be worded carefully. On occasion the story I pointed out as derivative and lacking any semblance of originality ends up published a few months later, with very few changes.
Publishing is a strange endeavor, never moreso than when when we try to make sense of it.
Right now I have two works in progress on my Kindle, sent from writing friends for a beta read. The friends have on occasion read for me, and have offered an ultimate expression of professional friendship by being brutally honest. Hate or love my work, they pull no punches.
Nor would I give them any less than my full honesty. Sure, I’ll temper it with soft words of praise. There are only so many ways one can say “I gave up before page thirty, I was so bored,” but one can attempt to find the actual best place to start the book. Far better for an earlier reader to reveal these plot weaknesses than for an editor to send the book back with a vague “fix it and we’ll look at it again” rejection.
With both of these writers I know any comments will be taken at face value, with no search for hidden messages. We separate the writer from the writing, which is healthy for all concerned, and something all of us need to remember when asking for or performing critiques. Don’t ask unless you really want to know, and learn to use that feedback to strengthen not only your own work but also your ability to evaluate other writer’s work.