Whate I’ve learned from writing 500 critiques


For better or worse, writing 500 critiques (502 to be exact) is a milestone, so I thought I’d ruminate over what benefits I might have received from doing all that reading of submissions and writing of criticisms.

First, I’ve typed a lot of words. 311,926 to be exact. That averages out to about 625 words per critique. Sounds reasonable until I remember all the critiques I’ve given that were almost as long as the submission itself. And the time! 8 days, 11 hours, and 49 minutes of writing. How the hell did the Critique Circle webmasters figure that out? Whew. Seems like a lot of time when you look at it that way. But my average time per critique is only 39 minutes. Not as long as it seems, though on some crits I know I’ve labored for more than an hour, maybe two.

The bigger benefit of doing critiques is the writing practice I’ve gotten. Not writing my own stories, but constructing quality sentences that convey my meaning accurately to the submitter. I’ve learned that most writers at Critique Circle (where I submit and critique) are there to help and be helped. Since I take my critting seriously, I try to say the most I can in the fewest words, which helps me improve my own verbiage-riddled prose.

I’ve also learned that I seem to have a good ear for dialogue when compared to other writers at CC.

My plotting seems to be weak, however, when compared to other submissions I’ve read. There are some darn good stories being written by CCers, with much more intriguing, well-constructed plots than my WIP.

I’m not as good as I want to be at creating characters. I know now that I need to draw characters that are stronger, unique, conflicted, and flawed. I tend to favor the ‘average joe’ for a character. A regular guy put into extraordinary circumstances. That’s good as long as the character evolves over the course of the story into the strong person he never knew he could be. I’ve critiqued some memorable characters in those 500 crits, many of whom I wish I’d invented.

I’ve learned that giving good critiques is hard and takes practice. I shudder to think of how lame my first 100 or so crits must have seemed to the recipients, since I was a very raw novice 3 years ago when I joined CC. Since then, I’ve managed to earn an outstanding critter rating from those I’ve critted (although I’m still not sure how that process works), so I believe I’ve learned more about what distinguishes superlative writing from competent or flawed writing. Hopefully, that learning will translate into my writing . After all, that’s the main reason I crit–self-improvement. It’s similar to learning by teaching. If you are forced to analyze what’s good or bad in someone else’s writing, it should be easier to spot those strengths and weaknesses in your own writing.

I’ve learned that I’ve not wasted my time writing. Compared to the works of the writers I’ve critiqued, my prose show promise. Not nearly as bad as the worst I’ve critiqued, but nowhere near the level of the best CCers. I have a way to go, but am more confident than ever that I have publication-worthy stories to tell.

I’ve learned that there is no shortage of imaginative people in the world. The submissions I’ve read are mainly mystery/thriller/suspense/horror genre works, but no two have even come close to being similar, and some of the characters, plots and settings are truly unique. Bravo for all of us aspiring and accomplished writers for perpetually surprising ourselves with the imaginative ideas we come up with day after day.

I’ve learned that attention to detail is crucial. Typos, sloppy punctuation, spelling errors, and convoluted syntax turn me off of someone’s writing immediately. I’d much rather read and crit pedestrian prose that is free of careless errors than labor through a compelling, vivid, breathtaking story with well-drawn characters that is nearly impossible to read smoothly because the technicals are so horrid. There is no excuse for sloppy writing in this day of word processors, spelling and grammar checkers, and resources instantly available via the internet for avoiding or correcting those errors of omission or carelessness.

Lastly, I’ve learned that writing is a continuous process of evolution. All of us start as raw storytellers and improve with every word we write (theoretically). The best never stop learning, practicing, improving, studying, daring to dream, pushing the envelope of what is considered quality prose.

What have you learned from your writing/reading/critiquing efforts? Has all that learning been worth the time you spent acquiring the knowledge? I’d love to hear from you.

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4 responses to “Whate I’ve learned from writing 500 critiques

  1. Wow, that’s a lot of critiques! I’m at 354, but I’ve learned an incredible amount with every single one. I’ve learned what sucks me into a story (tension of any kind, compelling characters, beautiful or different writing) and what turns me off (zero tension, dry characters, flat writing). I try to apply all that knowledge in my own writing, and sometimes I succeed. As long as I’m learning, writing, and critiquing, I can only improve.

    Great post, and congratulations on your milestone!

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  2. 500 is impressive! I had to go and check – I’ve given 278 on critiquecircle, but that doesn’t include ones given in person at various writing groups and workshops. I agree with your observations and would add that I’ve learnt more than I ever dreamt possible. I thought I was a pretty good writer when I started, but I know I’m much better now. I can see my own flaws more clearly in other people’s prose but then I go and fix it in my writing too, or try to.

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    • Thanks, I was surprised myself that I’d done that many. Critting at CC is a great way to learn, but I found I was spending too much time critting, being critted, and then fixing nitpicky things in my story to the detriment of getting a really good overall story written. If one is fixing commas, tenses and sentence structure, one often neglects good plot points, tension, character development, and other big picture elements of a good story.

      If I resume critting at CC, I’ll probably go more for crits concerning overall impressions and flow rather than minute details. But, whatever works for a writer is whatever works. 🙂

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