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“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” – Winston Churchill
Let’s start with what it means to critique someone’s writing. You may see many definitions of the word but the one we’ll take for our purpose is from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
To express your opinion about the good and bad parts of (something)
The critiquer should note that what is required is ‘your opinion’ not someone else’s rehashed opinion, your opinion.
The author of the piece that is critiqued should note that what you get in the critique is someone else’s opinion. This does not mean that we should slavishly follow that opinion. We should analyse the opinion given in the critique with an open mind. We should then compare it with our own thoughts and opinions and use the knowledge that we gain from it to improve our own writing.
This is not as easy as it first seems. What if the critique express’s an opinion that is totally contrary to your own? You’re probably aware of what is known as the ‘fight or flight’ reaction. This is the instinctive physiological response to a threatening situation, which readies one either to resist forcibly or to run away. When we are confronted with something that threatens something we believe in, something that we love, something that we worked hard to achieve (you get the picture) our instinct is to fight the source of the threat, or run away from the threat. Contrary to popular belief we are not logical creatures that are capable of strong emotions. We are creatures with strong emotions that are capable of logic. The instinctive approach to the content of a critique is useless. What good does it do us to go on the attack and what good does it do us to run away from what has been presented to us. We must put aside our instinctive behaviour and turn to logic if we are to gain most benefit from a critique.
For the writer of the critique; how do you ensure that you make your efforts worthwhile? After putting considerable effort into writing a critique you want to make it worthwhile, don’t you? You help the author to avoid the ‘fight or flight’ reaction by being more measured in your approach. Try to avoid all forms of conflict when you write your critique. Help the author to use his powers of logic. Try to put yourself in the author shoes, what kind of critique would you like to receive?
There will always be differences of opinion but they do not have to result in conflict. Do you remember this old nursery rhyme?
Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Agreed to have a battle;
For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
Had spoiled his nice new rattle.
Just then flew down a monstrous crow,
As black as a tar-barrel;
Which frightened both the heroes so,
They quite forgot their quarrel
There are plenty of monstrous crows in the world of writing and publishing don’t fight over a rattle.