It’s Critical That You Type Your Critiques


I started a writing group, and last night was our first session. We spent our time on administrative things, such as setting a schedule to discuss each other’s writing and establishing some rules of play. One of the rules I wanted – and folks agreed to – was that readers would type up their comments for the writers. I’ve always felt that a writer learns more from this experience than the reader actually receives. To lend weight to my argument, I submit these ideas from Steve Almond, a Boston-based writer whose book of essays and flash fiction, “This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey,” I’m reading at the moment.

In one chapter, he asks, “What is writing?”

He says, “Writing is decision making. Nothing more and nothing less. What word? Where to place the comma? How to shape the paragraph? Which characters to undress and in what manner? Its relentless.”

And, “The only surefire solution is to develop the capacity to pass reliable judgment on your own work – to second guess your decisions without second guessing your talent.”

In short, one has to develop a “Bullshit Detector,” a phrase coined by Hemingway.

How does one develop such a detector?

“What you must do is read the work of other unpublished writers, the ones who make the same mistakes you do, who needlessly obfuscate, who cast about for a plot, who pile up adjectives like bacon-wrapped scallops at an all-you-can-eat buffet, who traffic in self-regarding metaphors like the one in the previous clause, who, in short, ignore their characters at the behest of their own insecurities. And actually just reading these pieces won’t do. You have to critique them….[produce] a written document that articulates precisely where and why the author is making good decisions, before proceeding to her less-than-ideal decisions.”

Almond’s point is that you’re not creating such a document to explain to the writer what’s working and what’s not, you’re creating the document to EXPLAIN TO YOURSELF “how to stop sucking as a writer.”

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