Remember this when criticising work

I am a bit full of the residential writing course I just taught but let me tell you something I learnt from it. I wanted to explain to people who have never written creatively, just what criticism and feedback was really for.

I’ve been a professional critic and I have been criticised myriad times but when you stop to explain something to someone, I think you get a better understanding of it. Which, ironically, is one of the things I was trying to say criticism is for.

But I surprised myself with what I now call reason number one. Criticism is there to encourage. That does sound like a Hallmark Card but I mean it because nobody ever did anything any good through stopping and giving up.

Next, there are really two pieces of work. If you’re writing a story, there is the one in your head and then there is one on paper. Criticism deals only and solely with the one on paper – but its aim is to get you bringing the one in your head more.

And I found a new writing exercise. I divided the group into pairs and got each person to read the other’s story and then tell them what it was about. That’s the reader and critic telling the writer what the writer’s own story is about. I need to run this a few more times to know whether it works but it feels right: the writer gets to hear whether he or she has conveyed what they were after. And, bonus, your critic really concentrates when their job starts with telling you your own story.