Monday, January 10, 2011

On Critiquing—When to Offer Suggestions

cohdra100_1413I’ve never thought of myself as a good book reviewer. I’m definitely not a good critiquer—my technique is really just an overwhelming desire to rewrite a problem area in someone’s manuscript. I can tell when something isn’t working…I have a hard time pinpointing why it’s not working. I just want to fix it. (No, I’m not in any crit groups now.) :)

My son was working on a literary criticism project for his English class. He’s a competent writer, although he’s usually not enthusiastic about doing it.

This time, he handed me his paper. “Take a look at this!” he said, smiling.

He’d written a good thesis. He’d come up with several pages to support it…except there were two paragraphs that didn’t tie into his thesis at all. The paragraphs were on how the author’s word choice created a certain mood.

Well….the author’s word choice did create a somber mood. He was right about that. But he hadn’t tied the examples into his thesis at all.

I was about to say, “Hey, it looks great. But you might want to look at these paragraphs here and see if you can find a problem…” But then I stopped.

He was excited about writing. He hadn’t finished his essay yet. Right now he was enthusiastic and productive. Why mess with momentum?

So I brought it up after he was finished writing the paper. He was glad I’d pointed out that he should make sure that everything tied into his thesis, but he’d rather have fixed the problem as he’d gone along—and he’d continued making the same error a couple more times after he’d finished writing the essay.

Pros to biting your tongue-- The writer might continue writing with confidence and enthusiasm. Editing can happen just as well in the second draft.

Pros to pointing out a potential problem with a manuscript-- The writer has an opportunity to decide if it is a problem…and correct it before they go on any farther.

Does the critique you give depend on the writer looking for advice? And how do you feel about constructive criticism…would you rather have it during your first draft, or after?