The Fine Art of Helpful Critique: DO's, DON'Ts, and a Mutually Empowering Technique for Generating Feedback Loops that Help Writers Write Better.
by Heather Jo Flores
A writer who critiques her own work has a fool for a critic.
But a critical fool wielding careless words at a writer can cause more damage than they might realize.
Whichever side of the creative process you find yourself, consider making the effort to learn the fine art of helpful critique. Giving and receiving a helpful critique can be a huge challenge, especially if you’re new at it.
In this article, I’ll discuss the do's and don’ts of exchanging a helpful, actionable critique, and offer a technique that works especially well for empathic, socially-aware, and feminist writers.
Just like other forms of communication, healthy, helpful critique is all about boundaries, and establishing clear guidelines can make a huge difference in how (or if) a feedback loop functions.
Sloppy critique causes conflict. Careful critique causes improvement in both the critic and the artist, and leads to collective synergy plus top-quality creative results.
DO’s and DON'Ts of Creative Critique
These don’t just apply to written work. As you read through the list, imagine applying these ideas to critical dialogue of all kinds.
We’ll start with the DON'Ts.
And now, the DO’s:
Careful process leads to quality product.
A quality critique is equal parts listening, empathy, radical honesty, and contextual assessment. It does not focus on your preference for or aversion to a thing. Instead it asks you to engage in a conversation and create specific, measurable, and actionable suggestions.
Bad critique is usually only the latter: we/they offer a emotion, a reaction, and a string of words based on whether or not we enjoyed or agreed with the work the presentation, based on what's going on for us in that moment, in our bodies, in our lives. It's completely subjective, and usually not a critique at all. What passes for critique in most places is actually just opinion, and it's not the same.
Now, this isn't to say you shouldn't critique a piece from your particular zone of bias and expertise. In fact, you should, But be clear with the writer what that bias and expertise is, and articulate actionable ways the piece can more deeply engage in the conversation you think it should be a part of.
Ready? Here we go!
I created this critique method in grad school, when I was working on my MFA about the Heroine’s Journey, and we used it a bunch. It’s fun and it works really well to bring out the best in both writer and critic alike. It's a combination of two classic techniques, “Empathic” and “Minor-White,” and the other letters stand for Mindful and Actionable. Empathic Minor-White Mindful Actionable=EMMA.
Here are the 12 steps of the EMMA method:
Alrighty! That’s EMMA, I hope it helps!
Next time somebody asks you for feedback on their writing, keep this stuff in mind, and the next time you’re looking for feedback on your own work, share this with your reader. And let me know how it goes.
Are you a smart, independent woman who wants to grow your own food, heal the Earth, and make a living as a freelance writer, artist, or ecopreneur?
Then you’re in luck, because that’s my jam!
Wild Women Writing Challenge!
What's a heroine's journey and why does it matter?
Looking for the writing I do about permaculture and gardening?
How to Write a Heroine's Journey
Pay-What-You-Want Intro Course!
Learn how to subvert patriarchy with your stories.
Pay-what-you-want mini-course helps you learn how to mimic nature to be more resilient, more productive, and happier.
For anyone who wants to spend more time doing what you love and less time wondering where in the heck all the time went!
Combine permaculture principles with online market research to find the perfect, paying audience for your work.
This online course taught by 40 women from around the world will give you the classic 72-hour permaculture design certification PLUS an advanced certificate in Social Systems Design.
Psst! All writers need this information.
Me sing for you?
Support for Women Writers
Subscribe to my list and get semi-weekly, actionable tips and professional opportunities, delivered to your inbox.
Check your inbox for the goods.