The Perks of Criticism

Working toward an English major and a Creative Writing minor, I have had my fair share of both personal and public critiques concerning my writing. You know how it goes—nearly every paper or poem you get back has comments scribbled across it: some encouraging, some praising, and some frankly disheartening. It took me a while to feel comfortable not only taking into consideration, but utilizing what other peoples' revision suggestions. After all, I had written the piece, shouldn't I know what was best for it?

In the first Creative Writing class I took (which wasn't until college) the professor utilized in-class group critique sessions. This was the first time I had ever really received any constructive criticism on my work, let alone received it face-to-face. I was in a group with two other people and we would each read our piece(s) while the others would jot down comments and suggestions for our final draft. Most of the time when I got my pieces back, my partners had suggested things that had never even crossed my mind because I had already been so fixated with a single idea as I wrote the rough draft. When I thought about all of the new possibilities I had to sift through, revising seemed much more daunting.

However, there were a few key things that I learned from my professors and my first few experiences with critiques that I try to keep in mind with each piece I revise:

1. In most cases, the critiques will only be on a rough draft, leaving you time to take each suggestion into consideration and play around with it. Even if you don't like someone's suggestion at face value, it might be worth it to try it out; it could lead you to a completely different conclusion. And if not, then all you have to do is go back to your original copy.

2. Aquinas College Creative Writing Professor, Pamela Dail-Whiting, stresses the importance of “not changing your voice, but bettering it.” Whether you realize it or not, you have your own style of writing that comes through in your diction, sentence structure, subject choice, and much more. You may be using someone's suggestions to “enhance” the details of your poem or story, but you shouldn't sacrifice your own words and ideas. Integrate the two, and your piece will stay natural.

3. What you've already written shouldn't be entirely sacrificed. When someone is critiquing your piece, they are looking to better it, not change the whole thing. Sometimes critics can go overboard (I've done it before myself) and start marking things that simply don't suit them. Consider their reason for that criticism before you alter it. Likewise, consider your own reason for altering something. Thinking about why you are making the revisions will make you closely consider whether you are helping or hurting the piece.

4. Lastly, the person who is critiquing your piece is not critiquing you. Professor Dail-Whiting made sure her students knew that, as both critics and writers, they had to respect everyone's pieces and help it “become what it is trying to be,” in both voice and vision. Don't take it personally if people aren't always enthusiastic about your pieces—maybe it's not their favorite style, or maybe they are just having an off day—but their critiques should always be about your piece, and not your personality. However, you should still take their critiques into consideration and see if their perspective adds anything.

Hopefully these few tidbits will help keep your critiqued revisions on track as they do for me. When it comes to making revisions you are, as Professor Dail-Whiting puts it, “constantly learning,” and “[creating] dialogue” with yourself through the changes you make, revealing more about yourself as a writer. Just take it one constructive criticism at a time and let others' critiques guide you on your quest for a better draft.

Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.