1. Zombocalypse
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    Zombocalypse Member

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    Is it necessary to get critiqued to be a great writer?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Zombocalypse, Oct 19, 2016.

    Is it necessary to get critiqued to be a great writer?

    Can a person aspiring to write better become better without getting critiques for his work? Or is having feedback important for one's development?



    Those are pretty much my questions. I ask because I find it hard to find people to critique my work. Perhaps once I gain the privilege to post my work here, things would be different...
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I think for most of us, critique is a critical element. I don't doubt, however, that a few great writers naturally see how the words belong on a page. They pick it up on their own without a struggle.

    The benefit of critique for me however, is it means writing is a learnable skill.
     
  3. Infel
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    Infel Senior Member

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    After really sitting down and thinking about this, here is what I came up with.

    Critique is like a pencil. Can you learn to draw without one? Sure. Might it be harder? Probably. Critiques are a tool--and I'd say they're a valuable one. You can learn to write without them, sure. But the value in the tool is that you can use it when you feel its necessary. You can use it to better your work--and there's an important distinction to be made in getting critique to better yourself, and getting it to boost your ego.

    Writing is just like drawing. You can study figures and still lifes and color theory all on your own, put it to a sketchbook, and come out alright. But the value in having a close friend around to say:

    "Hey bro, your left hand is crooked and your eye is funny."

    To me, thats invaluable. That is to say, a FRIEND to help you get BETTER is invaluable. In critique, thats other authors and readers who like your genre, your style, and aren't out to be an ass hole.

    My thoughts are that learning to receive critiques, filtering out the ones that don't really mean anything, and applying the ones that do, is something wonderful no matter what aspect of life it's in.

    The hard part is receiving them gracefully. Lord knows I'm not as good as I wish I were at it ._.
     
  4. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    Critique is not a required element to become or be a skilled writer.

    It is, however, an extremely valuable tool to see patterns in your work, navigate plot, characterization, flow, syntax, etc. All of those things can be done without critique, but a fresh set of mostly objective eyes certainly can't hurt.

    I think of it as a numbers game. I want to give myself the best possible chance to succeed. That, for me, means finding people to beta read my work and also doing the same for others. It means pursuing every possible avenue to improve.

    No it's not necessary, but that doesn't mean it's not helpful.
     
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  5. G. Anderson
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    G. Anderson Senior Member

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    It's interesting because I think we all want critique to be necessary for us to become great writers. Otherwise, what's the point in us getting sometimes hurt by it?
    But then there's a fine line too because what if you try to please your critics so much by showing that you took on board their criticism that you end up writing a story just to please them. I think then it could be counterproductive because can you really write a great story if your hearts not in it?

    I think critique helps us become greater writers. But I think there's an art to learning what to take on board and how still to write from your perspective and not others.
     
  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think some writers need it, others don't.

    Or even further, some writers need some types of critiques, other writers need other types, some need none, some need a pony...

    Sorry, got carried away there.

    I do think it's a bad idea to not get critiqued because you're scared/intimidated by critique. Being a writer with a thin skin is not a good thing, and critiques can be a good way to start improving your resiliency, if not your writing.
     
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  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    It may be possible to become a great writer without being critiqued, but I would think it extremely unlikely.* Critique is how we are able to see the flaws that we cannot spot ourselves.

    That said, not all critique is helpful. Some people don't actually get what you're trying to do; some get it and, for their own personal reasons, don't like it. And some don't know any more about what makes quality writing than you do. So, the trick is to be able to pick through the comments and extract what is genuinely useful, and the only way to do that is to - you guessed it - get critiqued. And, as @BayView noted above, it helps thicken the skin.

    *Sudden idea for a comedy skit of an overbearing churchman critiquing a young William Shakespeare: "Why three 'tomorrows'? That's extravagant and wasteful! One will suffice! And this other bit you've written - a woman dressed as a man! What on earth could you be thinking! You write like that, in another five centuries, people will think it's NORMAL! And these witches over here! I don't see..."
     
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  8. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Not all critiques are created equal. Sometimes you should listen and sometimes you shouldn't. I think there lies the problem with new writers. It's not always easy to know the difference. A good way to test out the critique waters is to take a creative writing workshop. Gotham does a great job with their online classes. You will receive several critiques at once that will allow you to look for patterns. If everyone is saying something doesn't make sense, it might not make sense. If one person says something doesn't make sense, but four other people say that was their favorite part, who are you going to listen to?
     
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  9. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I agree.

    I also agree with the caveats people are making about critiques not being equal, and learning to sort the wheat from the chaff. But I do think nearly all of us benefit from good critique.
     
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  10. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    I think it is essential. When I started to share and get my work critiqued (as part of a course I did) it was a revelation. I'd been really focused on good use of language, grammar, etc. - just trying not to sound like a monkey mashing a keyboard with its fist. But, like @Spencer1990 says, critique opened up all these other extremely important things I hadn't been thinking about. The first critiques I received made it clear that I was not communicating the things I wanted to. I'd written lots of technically correct sentences that did not convey what had been in my head, which made those technically correct sentences kind of a waste of effort.

    I know what you mean. I would like to be able to get more feedback (and more in depth feedback). Everything I do get definitely helps but, ideally, I'd sit several poor souls down, make them read the story (at least twice) then interview them for maybe an hour or two on every tiny aspect of the piece. I get the feeling people would not be up for that!
     
  11. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is necessary to GIVE critique to be a great writer.

    What you will learn by giving a critique is to really look at what somebody else has done with a critical eye, and sort out what works and what doesn't. Once you've understood why a fellow aspiring author fails or succeeds you'll have a better chance of succeeding by taking on board the good bits, and avoiding the bad bits.

    Whereas, if your work is critiqued, there are a number of possible reasons why it won't help you:

    1/ The critiquer may know less than you do, so his corrections to your SPaG may actually be incorrect; or he's so hung up on something he thinks he read (but, in reality, misunderstood) that he's shooting you down when you're actually doing something good; or, or, or...
    2/ You will almost certainly get a variety of responses, some good, some not; how do you know which to take account of?
    3/ You may be so enamoured of your piece that you won't hear a single negative word about it, so the critique falls on deaf ears.
     
  12. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd agree that it's necessary (or at least very, very, VERY beneficial) to read critically in order to become a great writer, but I don't agree that the results of this critical thinking need to be shared in a critique. And I think it's much more important to read great work that you love and think about what makes it great than to read less-than-great work that you don't enjoy (as I would classify most pieces for which critique is sought) and think about what makes it less-than-great.

    I know for me, and I think for most, that we learn by studying the masters, not the beginners.
     
  13. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    Maybe it depends how new you are to writing? I find it far easier to see something someone else has done 'wrong', recognise that I do the same thing sometimes and resolve not to keep an eye out for it in future, than I do to see what someone else has done 'right'. If writing is really good, it's sort of hard to see the construction lines - you just get carried along. I definitely find it difficult to analyse stories I really love.
     
  14. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    When I read amazing published works I tumble into despair, shouting, "I'LL NEVER BE THIS GOOD SO I MIGHT AS WELL DIE."

    When I read less-than-stellar ones, I get irritated that they got published and I haven't.

    It's all about me me me me me me. As a result, I've learned way more through beta reading than I have through reading-reading.
     
  15. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Decide for yourself which advice fits better with your vision for the story and which advice doesn't ;)

    That's not a bug, that's a feature
     
  16. Carly Berg
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    Carly Berg Contributing Member

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    Hi Zombocalypse. I don't think it's hard to get critiques. There are several easy-access online critique forums, including the one on here. It may not be instant, and you usually have to pay a small fee and/or "give to get" though.

    That said, I wouldn't say "always" or "never" to much about writing. For example, a couple of other ways to polish your work are having someone read it back to you (or recording it) and just listening because the ears catch what the eyes miss. Or put it up for a couple of weeks. When you come back to it, you aren't so "inside" it anymore and will be able to read it as if someone else wrote it and catch many less-than-stellar parts.

    Also, I have learned many times more by critiquing other writers' work than I have from the critiques I received. There are a few dozen typical newbie errors and once you've done a couple of hundred critiques, they'll stand out to you in neon colors and you'll never make them again in your own work.

    Again avoiding "all" and "never," I can say that I've seen work from those who never participated in the critique process many times where, even after years of writing, their work was full of those same typical newbie errors and they had no clue of it.

    Some people would reply that that's all cosmetic and all that really matters is the "story." However, in my experience those two things are rarely separate. Work that's riddled with little errors is riddled with larger story problems and most often simply not good. It's from someone who hasn't learned their craft.

    So I'd ask "Why would anyone not want to participate in the critique process?" rather than "Do I have to participate in the critique process to get good?"

    As others have mentioned, you do need a whole new set of skills so you can know which suggestions to keep and which to toss. Writing good fiction is hard!
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2016
  17. Carly Berg
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    Carly Berg Contributing Member

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    Here's my method for using critiques:

    Wait until you get a few critiques. Using three different color highlighters, go through them all a section at a time and highlight the suggestions. For ex: Green means it's a suggestion you're sure you agree with. Pink is a definite "no," and blue means "maybe."


    - Save a copy of your original so you can start over if you get confused.

    -Don't make any changes you're not sure you agree with.

    - Expect to toss more suggestions than you use, maybe even 90% of them.

    - Consider something more strongly if more than one person made the same suggestion or had a problem with a certain part of your work. But that doesn't mean automatically take their opinion over your own. Just re-consider it, that's all.

    - Handle the "yesses" and the "noes" first. Now all you have to worry about are the "maybes".

    - If you get stuck on the "maybes" put it away. Give it a rest, then come back to it with fresh eyes.

    - Thank everyone who tried to help you, whether they actually did or not. Don't argue, defend or explain anything. You asked for their opinion but they didn't ask for yours. Correcting your critters only makes you look difficult and makes others decide to go help someone who seems grateful instead.

    - Expect to get so damn mad you think your head will explode lol.

    - Be grateful for the practice because it's nothing compared to the whupping you will get once your work is published. Anyone can be as nasty and unfair as they want then (and they will!). The difference is it will be in public, you will have no chance to change anything, and if you talk back then all you will do is delight the entire internet with with your utter dorkitude and it will probably go viral.

    Good luck!
     
  18. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    "Great" is a pretty high bar. I'd say it's possible to get there without ever subjecting your work to criticism from others, but you're basically relying on luck. I mean there are people who are "outsider" artists (at least I know they exist in the visual arts, although maybe it's more rare in writing) who have no formal training, aren't producing for others to consume or whatever, and still end up getting discovered and inking a deal with the Met for millions of bucks. But the odds of you being that person are astronomically slim.

    If you hit that jackpot, good for you. But the only alternative to that strategy is to work at getting better over time, and the only way to do that (again, this is all assuming you are writing for an audience other than yourself) is to open yourself up to criticism.
     
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  19. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Captain Blunt Force Trauma to the rescue! Truncheon to the face powers activate! :supergrin:

    Well it is better to find out that your story, style, or anything else in your writing sucks,
    before getting a mass of crap reviews on a public platform.

    Although if you write an awkward flat fanfiction based on a flat and awkward
    paranormal urban fantasy, then you have nothing to worry about.
    Though be prepared to be on the extremes of your writing, either by literally
    defending and loving your dull lack luster crap. Or Hating it to the point that
    they actually spend more time reading something with better writing, plot,
    character archs, and on and on.

    Though if you do we can only hope a crazy soccer mom runs you over
    with a minivan, while eating stale french fries as she hysterically
    squeeing about what a big fan they are of your terrible bland
    wooden puppet romance that makes no sense.

    So yes you can skip getting critiqued, but don't be surprised if
    it turns out you are not the 'English major', and master story
    teller you thought you were. :p
     
  20. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I do think that getting critiques is important - as is learning how to take critique, when critiques are right and wrong, etc.

    We're all horrible self-editors, so in order to get better we all need to find the holes in our craft that we need to fix. So, in that sense, I actually look at negative critiques as a positive thing that I actively want - I can't plug the holes in my own work without have people who can FIND the holes. The in-person critique group I go to can get pretty brutal, but most of the people who come get to like that aspect of it, because we're really committed to helping each other get better. Don't get scared of getting negative feedback - because negative feedback is exactly what you WANT. Positive feedback is fun - and when you get a lot of it you know you're on the right track - but NEGATIVE feedback is often ten times more useful (and if a good critic gives you negative feedback, they're not rejecting your story, they're telling you where the holes are because they like you and want your story to be as awesome as it can).

    I'd also say it's really important to learn to critique other people's stuff - it's always easier to find other people's mistakes, and you learn that other people take hard knocks too (sometimes from you). Personally, if you want to ease into critique, I'd join some critique groups and critique a few pieces before you submit anything of your own. First, you'll get to see the process in action with a target other than you, so you'll know what to expect. Second, I think it becomes easier to TAKE a punch if you first learn to THROW a punch (seriously - giving negative feedback to other people is a good way to remember that negative feedback is offered with pure intentions, because when you're both the critic and the critiqued, you learn to understand and respect both jobs.) Also, the more critique sessions you're in, the more you learn which negative feedback is useful, and which negative feedback you can tune out. I used to have a few people in my writing group that always had big issues with my submissions, and I stressed about it, until I realized that those people were the two people who had the least familiarity with Science Fiction and weren't my audience.
     
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  21. Kallisto
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    Kallisto Active Member

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    I run by the rule "art through adversity." If it wasn't for critique boards, then I would still be unknowingly writing in passive voice (I didn't even know that was a thing when I first started) and still be saying grammar doesn't matter as much as story. Ugh can't believe I ever thought that!

    Now, not all critiques are of equal value. I've had some suggestions that, when taken into consideration of the grand scope of the entire book, I had to ignore. But overall, it's been very positive.
     
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  22. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Critiques are useful because they make you think about your work in ways you might not have planned to. They also (to some extent, depending on the critique-givers) allow you to see if what you intended to convey has been picked up.

    I think 'critiques' are probably more common now than they were a while back, because of the internet. I don't imagine every great writer used them, but why not use them if they're available? I'd hate for the first feedback I get to be 1-star reviews on Amazon!
     

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