“Critiquing the Critique”

I’ve found the most difficult part of writing is in receiving meaningful critiques—hell, who am I fooling? My problem is in getting any critique. My family and friends hide or become busy with all manner of projects which simply cannot wait. They’d be happy to read my submissions if only they had one second of free time. They know my angles and avert them like a game of dodge ball.

I offered to do their projects. Free up a few minutes of their busy lives so they can relax and enjoy my latest masterpiece:

“Bosses and teachers don’t allow that sort of thing.”

“Oh…well, what if I clean your room for you so you can devote that time to analyzing my writing? I really need some human input, the dog just stares and occasionally wags his tail.”

“No, that won’t work; mindless cleaning helps me focus on my school work for later.”

“But…your room hasn’t been cleaned in ages; it’s a disaster.”

“That’s because I’m so busy.”

“Hey, maybe some of your friends aren’t so busy…”

“No, dad, they’re booked as well.”

I enter the living room, my wife squints and snores.

I found a captive audience in a MOOC writing class. We are required to critique each other’s work. However, I’ve noticed several problems with the art of critiquing. I become extremely self-aware and spend hours choosing words. I want my opinion to make better writers—I’m weird, I feel the world needs better writers. I attempt to guide them without destroying their enthusiasm. Then I edit my critique and wonder if my critique should be critiqued by others. I attempt to get my family and friends involved—to critique my critique.

“Just tell me if you think I was too harsh, too nice, missed the obvious? Come on, it won’t take long.”

They stare a cold stare and leave the room. Eventually, I am forced to close my eyes, cringe and submit my critique for everyone to read—awkward, right? What if my critique is too critical, or totally off the mark? Editors are constantly throwing out that term–subjective. What if they counter with a rip of my own story? Yes, authors expect others to lie and stroke their egos.

Later, I read their responses to not only my appraisal, but others’ as well. It is not good. Authors are fragile creatures who have very altered realities. And, when I eventually get up the nerve (after drinking a few beers) to read their fillet of my work…well, I usually am incensed. It’s as if they have critiqued something they haven’t read. So I go back and re-read my submission and sure enough the comments either have no relevance or I can’t decipher their intent.

We have bulleted guide lines to follow; no one ever does. A very simple list of general questions to answer. I read the latest critique of my work:

1. What were the strengths and weaknesses of the character portrayals?

It confused me to form a visual of the characters.

2. Were there any very clear, or any confusing, elements of the story which related to approaches taught on Start Writing Fiction?

The characters.

3. Did the story have a plot, causality and conflict? How did it engage you?

I don’t know if it had a plot. It just seemed to be a story of a weird man.

So right then and there I decide when I get her story I’m going to rip her a new ass hole. I bide my time until she submits her next work. My blood pressure rises. I feel hot. My hands tremble. I smile. I search for the most destructive comments to make in retaliation, “Aspiring author my fat ass…”

I read the first paragraph over and over, attempting to make sense of the misspelling, punctuation, omitted words, run on sentences, she types in Caps. I squint and tilt my head as I form an image of her character. He needs a makeover to encourage her plot. The hours turn into days as I choose my words so as not to be too harsh, to be constructive, to offer well founded suggestions, to be specific, to encourage her towards better writing. My finger quivers over the submit button. I chew my lower lip and change my wording once more so as not to cause her injury. I close my eyes, flinch with the click of the mouse. No going back.

The next day I read her response to my suggestions, “I don’t get it.”

About sidney Kidd

Sidney Kidd was born in Dillon, South Carolina. He received a BS from Francis Marion University. His work has appeared in Play Girl Magazine, McSweeney’s, Projected Letters, The Atticus Review, Crab Fat Literary Magazine, The Snow Island Review and The River Walk Journal.