"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Kid Praise and Critiquing

I saw a mom yesterday at school who runs a book fair here in town. I'd given her an ARC of The Emerald Tablet, and when she saw me, she told me how her 6/7 year old son had read the whole thing.
She laughed and told me how he was telling someone about it was and in her words, he said 'I only understood about every other word, but it was really great'.
Too funny!

I've read quite a few posts recently on critiquing, but perhaps one of the biggest things I so rarely see is how important it is to point out the positive.
As I read weekly submissions for my critique group, I've gotten to know everyone so well (along with each of their excellent writing) that sometimes I neglect to point out everything I love. I mean, there is just so much great stuff. Smooth prose. Natural dialog, excellent examples of show don't tell.
But I need to point this stuff out more!!!!

Here that, critique group?

When I submit something, I love getting honest, useful feedback. But I admit it: I also want people to say they like it. I believe in every submission, there is always something worthy of praise. And as writers, in our insecure thoughts, we love hearing anything. Even something like "the second sentence in the fourth paragraph on page 5 is amazing."

At a recent workshop I went to, we started out with nothing but praise for the first 5 minutes. Then we moved on to things which could be improved. And finally, we finished with another 5 minutes of praise. Hearing my work critiqued, this totally made me feel like I had potential. And feeling this way really helps keep the creativity flowing.

25 comments:

Christine M said...

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, right? It's much easier to hear that something doesn't work if at the same time you hear about the stuff that does work! And there's always something that works.

PJ Hoover said...

See, Mary Poppins had all the wisdom, didn't she, Chris? And she could sing and dance and hung out with chimney sweeps.
And yes, there is always something that works!

beth said...

Absolutely true. I noticed this first when grading student papers--if it was all bad, they quit reading comments. But if some positive stuff was in there, they considered everything as a whole more. Likewise, in crits, if there is a contrast between good and bad, then the critique is just stronger.

On a more personal note, there has been more than one instance of me not being sure whether to cut something or not--and positive feedback almost invariably gives me new confidence in the passage.

PJ Hoover said...

That's a perfect way to put it, Beth. It makes for a stronger critique! Love that!

Angie Frazier said...

I agree completely about positive feedback! I try and dish it out right in the first sentence, and then again in the last sentence of a critique. My online crit. group has had a few past members who NEVER said anything good about any submission, and it was very hard to deal with.

PJ Hoover said...

LOL, Angie! I hope my critique group doesn't think that about me! I will make an effort to point out how much I love stuff in the future!

Tabitha said...

So, so true! Even if I'm critiquing something that is beautifully written, I make it a point to comment on how the author did something well.

I've found that, often, when a piece is well-crafted, the critiquer just assumes that the author knows it's been well-crafted and will add little to no praise. Which can be frustrating for the author...so, no matter what, I start and end each critique with something the author does well! :)

PJ Hoover said...

Such great advice, Tabitha, and so well put. Even if it is beautifully crafted, the author still likes to hear this.

laurasmagicday said...

So true. We all need that validation that certain things are working. I think it helps to have those things pointed out in order to see what truly isn't working. Great post.

I definitely focused on what needed attention in my critiques for the workshop I attended in Santa Cruz and found myself hoping the writers there didn't think I was too harsh when I handed them in. Cie le Vie.

PJ Hoover said...

Great attitude, Laura! That's the best we can do. Learn from what we've done in the past and work to improve in the future!

TJ Brown said...

I totally agree with you there. It gets depressing to read everyting that is wrong with your piece... if you didn't believe in it, you wouldn't have sent it out there.
Teri

PJ Hoover said...

And who wants to be depressed! Not me. And I don't want to make anyone else depressed, either.
Thanks for visiting, Teri!

Gottawrite Girl said...

I agree with you! Yes, I cherish ideas for improvement - but I just experienced a critique that left me reeling in the parking lot...There is always a way to contribute a little kindness or hope!

PJ Hoover said...

And a little hope goes a long way, doesn't it, Gottawrite Girl!
The same way a fantastic idea for improvement leaves us so excited to go home and revise.
Thanks for visiting!

Marcia said...

The sandwich method of critique -- praise, criticism, praise -- is really helpful. Yes, we do have to be careful to praise enough, which is not the same thing as indulging some writers' desire for nothing but praise. If everything we say is negative, the writer may be too discouraged to really hear any of it, so in the end we didn't help them. Because of the difficulty of the business, the praise is in a way as necessary as the criticism.

keri mikulski :) said...

I definitely agree. Great post, PJ.

When I teach writing, we always start by talking about that when you write you are showing the world a piece of your soul. Although, everyone wants to improve, we also need to point out the good stuff. :)

PJ Hoover said...

Marcia, I love it being called the sandwich method! Did you coin this? It's genius. From now on, that's the image I will keep in my head while critiquing.

Writing is totally like exposing your soul, isn't it, Keri! But it gets easier each time.
And how cool you teach writing!

Don Tate II said...

I like both positive and negative feedback. But I get suspicious if the feedback is syrupy sweet.

PJ Hoover said...

Yeah, it can't be all good, can it, Don? Except if it happens to be in a review from Kirkus or School Library Journal or something. Then, I'd never complain :)

Prince Balthazar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Prince Balthazar said...

It is amazing how we feel when people point out the good stuff in our writing. Even the smallest point makes us feel we are doing something right.

I need to find a good crit group. I joined one here in Chicago, but they only meet once a month and it's usually just three of us. And they all write heavy sci-fi and I write YA fantasy.

Angie, did your online crit group read Everlasting?

Carrie Harris said...

I absolutely agree with you! There's NOTHING like a good critique group or critique partner. Right now, I've got a partner who is fabulous; I've never had much luck with local groups, though. I wonder if maybe it's my deodorant.

PJ Hoover said...

Exactly, Prince Balthazar! Even the smallest thing can do so much.
A good critique group is great! Mine is online which works so well for me on so many levels!

I tried some local groups, Carrie, but found getting away from the house during key kid hours was really hard on the family and not the best for me. The online is perfect because I can do it on my own time and I don't have to wear deodorant!

Thanks for visiting!

Patty P said...

I agree with Don Tate, if it's too good, I get suspicious. I risked sounding this way recently when giving a critique. I really did love EVERYTHING and had a hard time finding anything to criticize.
I guess when it's good, it's good! Good thing writing is subjective, huh?

PJ Hoover said...

I know what you mean, Patty! I've read stuff and thought - wow, I have nothing to contribute! Like maybe I found a missing comma. But I'm actively working on being a better critiquer, and there always has to be something! Even if it's just my opinion!