The term critique derives from the Greek term kritikē (κριτική), meaning “(the art of) discerning”, that is, discerning the value of persons or things. In other words, critique is supposed to help establishing the value of something or of someone.
Applied in the field of writing, whether we call it “critique” or “comment” or “review” or something else, we cannot deny the fact that others’ opinion on our writing has a strong impact on our ego. It’s true that we have to be open to discussion and to suggestions, but we also have to honestly admit that nobody likes it when others leave behind them negative thoughts.
Now, there are many things that are involved when we discuss about critique, but first of all, we have to think about it from two main points of view: the feelings of the receiver and of the giver, because we all have experienced both sides of the table, and therefore we must always think both ways when we give/receive others’ critique.
As receivers: remember that the comment that you may not have enjoyed too much is destined to your work, not to yourself. I know some of you may protest and say “yes, but I identify myself with my work, so that is actually a critique to me”. Wrong. One poem, one short story, even one book written by yourself, are not definitive for your own person, no matter how deeply involved in that you feel you are. Keep in mind that people who review you are people who took the time to read and analyze whatever you scribbled. I am not saying that they are absolutely 100% right, but bear in mind that it is impossible to please all readers first of all, and on the other hand they cannot be 100% wrong, so there has to be something in what they said that is correct. Remember that you have to respect the time they took to go through your wording and to provide you with their feedback, even if you don’t agree with any or all of what they said, so at least gracefully say “Thank you!” prior to disagreeing with them and to defending your own vision about your work. And something else: some of the greatest writers and poets in the world have had their share of bad reviews themselves, sometimes justified and sometimes not. But that didn’t stop them from writing or from wanting to improve. Critique can also serve as a measure of how strong the author’s beliefs are in his/her creation.
As givers: keep in mind that what you are reading came from the mind and heart of another person. That means that it is important to them, and therefore the words you use to review their work will leave clear marks on themselves. One of my dearest teachers, my piano professor in faculty, had a very clever way to comment on our results, and she shared it with us. She used to say “first of all talk about the good things and only after that move to the bad ones.” And that was actually very effective, because when she started with “you know, I really love what you did in that place…” and so on, the moment when she began discussing the parts that had been less good was already a bit sweetened and easier accepted. Remember that one act of creation does not define the author’s entire work. Some of us just have bad days, and those are obviously reflected in what we pen down. So, for example, instead of saying “this is bad”, you could say “I believe this would be better if [insert creative suggestion]”.
If honest and respectful, critique can be a wonderful tool for improvement, by pointing the places that need more attention AND the suggested means of improving those. Critique is a part of the act of creation, with the well-defined purpose of reflecting back to the authors the impact of their work on their readers. It’s a very serious thing, and not one to be taken lightly. So those of you, out there, who belong to the fellowship of writers and poets, remember these basic things about critique next time you are faced with either giving or receiving it.