Lately I’ve taken on a few more stories and books to look over for others, which is a pleasant way to feel useful and constructive for a while. Also reading other people’s work and offering impressions (or looking for typos as I am in one) uses a different part of my brain than story creation.
For a long time I strictly limited how much critiquing I was willing to do because activating that critical sense bled over into my creative work and stemmed the flow of ideas. But with the anxiety that suffuses the world today my imagination is working overtime, and not always in productive paths.
Reading critically forces me to enter someone else’s world and observe my reactions to it as I read. My own imagination settles down for a while and I enter into and enjoy the story. Or I don’t. If I don’t, I can ask why and give my reactions.
There is a meditative quality to this, a sort of Zen awareness of reaction even as one reacts. And because I am extending myself without a quid pro quo, I am not simultaneously worrying about what they think of my story. There is no comparison. I can just do this. As I do it, I learn things about what I like. Perhaps I learn new tricks from my friends. It’s all good.
Critiquing can be nerve-wracking if you don’t have a method for yourself because it feels as if you can never catch everything. Or you fear you might insult the writer. Or you just don’t know what to look for or where to begin. It used to be a source of stress to me.
I’m glad to say that it no longer is and that is largely due to Mary Robinette Kowal’s discussions of How to Critique. That link takes you to a video where she discusses it.
Here is her infographic on the topic (used here with permission). It is the method I use now.
Usually I tell the writer that I am going to use this method and what it consists of. But even when I don’t tell them about Mary Robinette Kowal’s method and simply use it, I get back comments from writers that my critique was especially useful.
You can find this infographic and a lot more incredible resources at Mary Robinette Kowal’s Patreon page. I believe that most of the infographics are available even if you are not a patron. Though honestly being a patron of Mary Robinette is one of the best things I’ve done for my writing. I recommend it. She’s an incredible teacher with a gift for dissecting and analyzing what works.
I hope you are also finding a way to activate the parts of your mind that offer you an off-ramp from anxiety these days and that whatever you are doing, you find serenity.
Be well, friends! And stay well.