Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The psychic poopyhead practical guru

I had a really stellar time writing today, pestering people who were trying to accomplish real writing, hunting for right words, getting new material hand written on a page (how romantic and old-fashioned, ooo!) all followed by a handsome dinner and a great time yammering at my buds about how great I am and how great my husband is.  Man, I'm insufferable.  Ain't it great?

A topic that came up revolved around critiques.  How much and to what level writer, specifically.  I don't have any humble opinions today since I'm busy being insufferable, so here's the deal.  

We already know that although it's nice to have your typos and blatant grammatical errors pointed out to you, line editing is not what critiquing is really about so almost none of a critiquer's time is spent on line by line stuff except noting awks, unnecessaries, passives, highlighting echo words and such.  Right?  Good.  So what's all the time being spent on besides just regular reading?  It's trying to put into words why you like or hate the character, the source of confusion, noting with !!! places where you're surprised (hopefully in a good way) and things of that nature.  If something really leaps out then you write a more detailed note about it.  

What if the writer is a novice or struggling or whatever?  How helpful is it to have a manuscript dropped in your lap dripping in red ink?  The answer to that varies, depending on how fast you learn, whether you have enough self-confidence to understand that this is one (very red) opinion and you can choose to ignore it all, and whether the comments are presented in a way that makes sense to you.

The critiquer has to be part psychic, part guru and part practical poopyhead.  The psychic part is guessing based on your magical powers of human observation what quantity and quality of comments will help the writer improve their manuscript.  The guru part is to be more of a guide or pointer than a hander of information.  A hander of information says here's what you need to do.  Do it.  The guru says the answer you seek is somewhere over there in the bushes, or maybe by the creek, I'm not sure but I thought I saw it there.  Go get it!  Good luck!  The practical poopyhead is a minimalist who not only looks out for the interests of art but protects himself from overcommitting for no good reason.  Is there any reason to spend three days sweating over someone else's two thousand word humorous and write out a critique that's a ten times longer than the story?  Don't waste your time (that's the poopyhead part, but actually, you're not being selfish--you're keeping yourself from burning out) and don't heap all that sweat and analysis onto someone who probably doesn't want or benefit from it (the practical part.)  

Some writers never get critiques from anyone except maybe their editor.  Others (like me) depend on wise and generous critiques offered freely and with good intentions to get their stories into decent shape.  For those of us who use critiques, and give them, it's a good idea to examine the nature of the beast to figure out what you're giving as well as what you're getting.  It's a learned skill.  Observation, practice, feedback--these are my friends.

There's peril and victory and gratitude and remorse as both the critiquer and the writer but in the end, all that really matters is whether the critiques improve self-expression.  If they do, then shine on.


C.S. said...

Wonderful post and observations! Timely too!

Kami said...

Glad to be of service! And now I'm off to write!

Oh, wait, got lots of reading to do.

And now I'm off to critique!