Monday, July 12, 2010

Assignment #4

This week, I'd like to get you thinking about constructive criticism. If writing is to express what's inside you, you might like to know how others perceive this expression. Language is to communicate, yes? Otherwise we might be content to stew in our own thoughts and images. It is easy to read our own writing and know what we're talking about, see the same images, feel the same sensations. When writing really clicks, we can help others feel these same intangible things. To me, that's the epitome of writing - small successes in communicating those things that don't always have words.

So let's gather some suggestions for things to look out for, shall we?

First of all, find something you love about the piece.

  • descriptive language
  • a lovely image
  • a unique perspective
  • a bit of knowledge you didn't have before
  • clarity in phrasing and word choice
  • an unusual topic
  • a well-developed paragraph
  • a well-argued point
There is always something to love about writing. If you try, you'll find it. Good ways of phrasing these, so that you don't get stuck saying "I like..." over and over, might include the following...
  • I am inspired by...
  • I appreciate....
  • (this particular section) is very clear/well developed/descriptive/imaginative. 
  • I think that (blah blah) is very (don't say 'good!') and elaborate.
  • why do you think this?
  • Be specific!
On the other hand, we have the dark side of criticism - that which people fear the most, and possibly the reason that more people don't share what they write. There are always things to be fixed.

This is true for all of us, though. For every time I read my own writing, I find another handful of corrections, one way or another. If we accept that our writing is forever growing, as long as we give it the opportunity to grow, then we can accept constructive criticism with less foot-stomping and wallowing-in-chocolate and more time actually making our writing sparkle. Remember: you don't have to make every change that is suggested to you - they are just ideas for your consideration.

Helpful suggestions may refer to the following:

  • Word choice
  • Development of thesis, argument
  • Clarity - (What exactly are you trying to say here? Can you "unpack" this some more?)
  • Elaboration, further detail
  • Sequencing
  • Character development
  • Rhythm, meter
  • Conciseness
  • .....? Something else that strikes you?
And because it can be uncomfortable to tear apart critique other people's writing, I have some suggestions for phrasing...
  • Have you considered....
  • Could you tell me more about...
  • This is great! Do you know what would make it really powerful...?
  • I'm curious about (blank)....
  • I'm afraid I'm a bit lost at this point...
  • Are you saying that (restate your understanding...)
  • Have you researched much on that topic? You might be interested in...
  • This character reminds me of....
  • Share your own helpful experience...

(Do you see why this post took an extra day?)

This week, you assignment is to read read read....but to read actively. As you read, whatever it is that you choose to read, keep in mind how the writing takes shape in your mind. What is particularly clear and well-written? What could have been improved? What would have been a more accurate word choice? What should have been developed further? For an Inkyplink post, you can choose between posting a review of something you read, or offering criticism to your fellow writers' posts.

Any questions, do let me know. My brain has been a bit fuzzy for the past couple days (to put it nicely) and it's very possible that I'm spewing vagueness, if not missing something huge. 
Happy writing!

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