How to Critique Writing: 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 how to critique writing in a manner that is helpful. 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.
How to Critique Writing: 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.
How to critique writing, 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.
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