SO...we now know that critiques are gold even when they hurt and a few tips on how to create your own gold for writers.
Now, for the nice people of the world--it’s time to glue some pillows on that critiquing gold! You know you have to hurt the author’s toe--you don’t need to break it, though, for goodness sake!
1. Do your best to praise what the author does well. While one brand of critiquers follow this advice too well (see no.1 in Gold), the others (like me) spend so much time tying to help the author do better, they forget to point out when the author did, in fact, nail something. Critiquing takes long enough: do you REALLY need to point out stuff that won’t help the author? Yes, actually--because it helps the psyche of the author. Yes, it takes a lot of work to point out the bad and the good (heck, to even just READ the thing), but it also takes a lot of work to write a novel. If you don’t point out the good now and then the author may collapse in a puddle of tears. Ignore this tip at your own risk.
2. This is kind of a 1.2, but don’t only praise--now and then, when you can honestly do it, praise exuberantly. If you REALLY liked a certain character, say REALLY. Don’t just say: “hey, I like this dude,” say, “this guy REALLY intrigues me, I’d love to see more of him” (of course, only do this of it’s true). If you’re giving the author some meat to work on (again, see Gold no.1), there is no such thing is over-praising what is done well.
3. Follow up. Don’t dump a critique and flee for the nearest exit. Stick around to see if they have any specific questions about your critique--things they didn’t understand, questions about how to make things better, attempts at cleaning up those semicolons. Lots of times, you won’t really know the answer to the questions--but being there to give input as they work through problems is really encouraging.
4. Become a fan. If you like a book, follow its progress! When there aren’t new chapters to read and critique, encourage them and remind them that you’re eager for more. Also, if you really, REALLY like the book...advertise it to others. There’s a big confidence boost there that’s very much appreciated even as we’re asking you to stop. (We’re liars, sue me.)
5. At the same time, don’t get to the point where you only praise everything. This goes back to Gold numero uno once more. Balance help with praise, and the praise means far more than if all you do IS praise. Make the writer BELIEVE your praise by being brutally honest when they need it and the cheerleader when they need it.
So, to sum up good critiquing, gold and pillow?
Tell them what doesn’t work. Be honest. Tell them what does. Be an encourager.
Thus ends Nai’s Ways to Become a Serious Writer’s Best Friend.
Pillow image from Google Images search. No copyright infringement intended.