I do quite a bit of critiquing. As a member of two writing groups and as a writing teacher, and randomly supporting other writers online.
I love it. I learn more about my own craft from critically reviewing other people’s work. And I hope my input helps other writers move their work along to the next draft.
What I am uncomfortable with, are first drafts.
First drafts to me are compost heaps. You throw everything on there, let it season, then later dig through it to find what’s germinated. First drafts are where you figure out what you want to write about, why, the tone, tense, POV you might use. Where you might just be laying down a premise or idea without committing to it yet. Something you will use later to discover what you still need to learn about your topic, or your intent.
Giving your first draft to someone else to read is one thing. Asking for input on it is another. In a way, it’s asking others to do much of the heavy lifting that you should be doing yourself in the second draft – as a way to discover the why and what of what you’re writing. And to figure out the best way to write it.
This is why I ask people who ask me to critique their work s to tell me which draft they are sharing. And why I will probably send it back if they say it’s in first draft.
Sharing ideas, themes, story germs is a wonderful thing for writers to do. Asking others to throw a lot of What Ifs at the idea for you to pick through can be tremendously helpful. Having others ask any of the Five Ws and How questions may help you clarify your idea and your thoughts.
But that is not critiquing. It’s brainstorming, something that can be fun, energizing and enlightening.
Plan a brainstorming session with your group or writing partner from time to time. Or make it a regular part of your meetings. Everyone will get a lot out of it.
But those first drafts? Get in the habit of throwing everything you have at them, without worrying about who else will see it. Keep it to yourself. Then, in the next draft apply what you know about the craft to refine your central premise, identify your intent, and fine-tune the writing.
And only then pass it on to a trusted reader or writer to critique.