As writers we learn our craft from many different sources: workshops, hundreds/thousands of books that promise to take our writing to the next level, lots of practice (I’ve been “seriously” practicing for almost nine years), attending conferences, etc.
All these things are awesome, but perhaps one of the least heralded sources of learning comes in the form of critique. Getting a critique from another author (regardless of that author’s experience level) teaches us something about our manuscript and writing style. Incredibly helpful as this is, I feel one of the greatest sources for learning comes in GIVING a critique to another author.
It was through critiquing another’s work that I learned the meaning of “show, don’t tell.” In pouring over paragraph after paragraph of backstory, I learned to recognize info dumps. It wasn’t until I started critiquing another’s work that I learned how pompous, unnatural, and “writerly” my words sounded on paper. Critiquing other manuscripts helped me find my own voice.
For one thing, it’s easier to spot discrepancies in other people’s work. We aren’t attached to it and are able to read with an objectivity we don’t have when it comes to our own work. This practice opens our eyes to the same or similar flaws in our own work (at least it will if we let it—cause guess what, my friends, none of us are perfect—no matter how long we’ve been writing). I think somewhere in the back of our subconscious minds, we know what is wrong with our work. But do we listen to the subconscious?
That is, until we critique another writer’s work. Then our subconscious is free to gravitate to the flaws it knows so well—the flaws present in our own work.
So get out there and critique, my fellow writers. Learn the things your subconscious has been trying to tell you all this time. Then dive into your own work and fix the issues you’ve discovered.
I’m learning, slowly, slowly, slowly. I still feel rather too uneducated or knowledgeable to critique somebody else’s work in depth. With time, I’m sure the confidence will grow. Lovely post.