Yesterday we started looking at self-critiquing and finding the balance between being too harsh a (self) critic and being too lenient. So how do you develop an objective approach to critiquing and editing?
First, let's look at what it means to "critique".
The words "critical" and "criticism" sometimes have negative connotations, and by extension, so does the word "critique". Some people prefer to use words like "review", "comment", "assess", "appraise", or "report on" when they talk about critiquing, to soften the "criticism" aspect of it. Bear these alternative terms in mind when you look at your own work, as a different word can sometimes alter your perspective a little.
Critiquing a manuscript involves a number of aspects, some of which are opposites. These include checking for errors such as spelling, typos, and factual or continuity mistakes; checking for word usage - anything that jars you as you read; and also reading for enjoyment - this is where you note your impressions pretending you're a "reader" reading the passage for the first time.
In many instances you can critique more effectively by reading the text more than once, splitting opposing tasks into separate sessions. For example, it can be difficult to cover tasks such as checking for errors in the same session as reading the text to find the parts that you enjoy the most.
Ideally, you need to distance yourself from your text as much as possible. The best way to do this is to put the manuscript aside for as long as you can - several weeks if possible. Try not to think about the story and characters while your work is "on ice".
When you're ready to read avoid thinking of the story as yours; this is where time invested in critiquing other authors will help to bring your objectivity into your own assessment.
Also in this series:
-- How to Critique Your Own Manuscript
-- Tackling the Task of Self-Critiquing
Elsa Neal is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. In her experience with reading and critiquing manuscripts, she's picked up the most common errors that many writers seem to make. Read her list of the Top Ten Mistakes Writers Make at her website. Stay and browse through her resources for writers or follow her writing insights at her Fictional Life Blog.