This weekend on June 12th, SCBWI-L.A. will be hosting its annual Critique Day which is open to all members of SCBWI. Creatives from all over the tri-regions (and beyond) will have the opportunity to share their work with each other in a safe and structured environment. It is one of the best places to get started when taking those first steps into honing your craft without having to fully commit to a class or pay for a workshop. This event is always free to our members. (Registration for this year’s event is now closed, however, so be sure to check back on the regional page for next time!)
But we’re here to talk about getting the most out of that critique. For first timers it can be nerve-racking just having someone else read your work, but for the seasoned pro it might be a testing ground for an experimental piece. Both need open and honest feedback about the work, but with only a few minutes to read and talk about each piece, how can we best make use of that time?
Start with Strengths
Someone’s words might sing right off the page. It is lyrical and magical and you just want to curl up on a comfy couch and read it for days. Another person’s work might have an edge to it, the tone seeps under your skin, giving an uneasy feeling in your bones. Every piece has a strength: it can be anything from the choice of words; to the tone that matches the mood they might be going for; to the development of a character or a beautiful setting. These strengths are often lost on the writer themselves, too worried about things that might be wrong with the writing, so it is always best to pick out those gems and let them shine in the moment.
Rather than honing in on a word choice, or a turn of phrase that might feel off to you personally, ask yourself whether the parts work with the whole. Is the message clear? Can you imagine the plot, or the characters, or the setting with ease? If not, these would be good places to raise some questions for the author. Ask them if there might be something missing from the page rather than suggesting an edit, for there are many different solutions to any one problem.
If there is something in particular that doesn’t feel right—either something that made you stop in someone else’s work or a question that someone raised about your own—this would be a good opportunity to open up a discussion. Dig a little deeper by asking why? Why did it make you stop and what was the author’s intent? You may be surprised to learn how much your personal tastes influence your work and how it guides your decisions in finding creative solutions. Having an open dialogue with other creators will not only strengthen your craft, but will also open up a world of possible solutions that you may not have been able to find on your own.
End with Praise
Just as we mentioned before, it’s hard for us creatives to give ourselves a pat on the back since we are so focused on how to improve. But we did the work, we showed up, and we took the next step to share it with others. Being vulnerable is the hardest thing anyone can do and so ending with praise about the work is essential. And if it is your work being praised, WRITE IT DOWN! Remember the good things that people said about it and learn from that too. You might learn that what you had thought were your weaknesses are actually your strengths. So be kind to yourself during this process and your work will shine for it.
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