Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Developing a "Critical" Mindset

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.

Distancing Yourself

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 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.

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  1. I recently discovered how useful it is to put a manuscript down, return to it weeks (months for me) later, and then read it while pretending to be a reader and not the author of the ms. Great tip.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. When I'm editing for a client, I read the manuscript three times. Each time, I can see different things. I would recommend that for authors self-editing. And space out the readings, as you said.

    Straight From Hel

  3. That is good advice and something I discovered for myself a while ago. After a gap of a week or two, it is amazing how different the script appears. It really does help.
    Blessings, Star

  4. I find it difficult to critique my own work because it feels so familiar, I can't be objective anymore. What I find infinitely helpful is to hear someone else's take on it first, because then it starts me looking at it in a fresh way. Even if I don't take their advice, I find that I start saying things like 'If I do this, then this can happen...Perfect!).

  5. Like Helen I, too, read a client's ms several times in the editing process. When I find myself getting too much into the story and not paying attention to the details I need to be looking for, I put it aside for a while until I can refocus. For me, content editing is easier than copy editing.

  6. I love the three times read through suggestion..

  7. Three times should be the minimum number of times an author reads through his or her ms. And after that a fresh pair of eyes will still inevitably pick up issues that will slip past the author due to over-familiarity with the work.


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