… Critiquing sites

1. As a reader, I should know my limitations. If a piece isn’t a familiar genre, can I usefully contribute?

2. As a writer, I ‘try’ to take criticism the same way as I accept compliments. Even if the person critting my work wouldn’t know Wittgenstein from washing instructions, I say thank you. (Mostly. See below*.)

3. As a reader, I stand back. A long-time English teacher, I find myself scanning for typos, poor grammar and inconsistencies. I had to learn to concentrate on the story arc, the pacing and the narrative.

4. As a writer, I file it. I never react instantly to a critique, but allow the ideas to percolate and respond when my ego has returned to the ground.

5. As a reader, I find something to admire. What I read represents hopes, ambitions, someone’s hours spent at a glowing screen. There’s always something positive to say. And if I really love it, I rave! Critiquing sites often focus on making work better, with precious little waving of pom-poms.

6. As a writer, I compare. And when I have three or more people who have a problem with an issue, plot-point, character action or even a word, I consider changing it. Only consider, mind. (see Point Eleven.)

7. As a reader, I point out what made it knotty for me. I don’t make sweeping assumptions like ‘People will be turned off by …’ Tell the truth. I didn’t like it.

8. As a writer, I read my readers. If the critiquer who bemoans the lack of action writes in the style-of-Schwarzenegger movies, I take it with a pinch of salt. If the writer whose subtle imagery leaves me breathless points out an oafish cliché, I listen.

9. As a reader, I offer solutions. If the characters are thin, if the plot is predictable, if the pace wears my nerves, suggest a fix. Fixes, even. Don’t point out problems without solutions.

10. As a writer, I learn who’s good at what. I have critters I trust at line level for tight language and cliché aversion; critters who nag me about the structure until I get it right; critters who have the eagle-eye on arc, progression and ideas; and a couple of dear cheerleaders who understand Point Five.

And Number 11.

Sometimes, as both writer and reader, I’m stubborn. If I’m sufficiently convinced enough by a concept, image or plot thread, I’ll dig in my heels and stick to my non-clichéd guns.

*Once I did type a nasty retaliation, but you should have seen the critique. Anyway, I’ve matured since then …

Imagine, if you will, a boat.

Let’s call it a ferry. It stands by the shore, patiently awaiting those who wish to cross to the other side. The sun sinks toward the hills, and the light fades to a silvery-pink.

A final whistle sounds.

Latecomers scramble across the jetty, discarding half-eaten sandwiches, rooting in pockets for tickets, and scurry across the gangplanks. The Captain greets each person with a cheerful, confident grin.

In the distance, a man lifts his head. The sound of the ferry’s whistle resonates through his entire being. He leaps to his feet and begins running. Crewmen release ropes, the whistle blasts once more. Children wave and laugh at the receding shore.

The man picks up his pace, feet flying over the shingle, eyes focused on his target. Muscles burning and chest bursting, he reaches the jetty. He sees the wake of the ferry churn. Distant hands of the young and unconcerned flutter in his sightline. Seagulls’ scornful calls echo around the harbour.

 Now, imagine that you are that man. And the ferry is the point.

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