Friendly Critiques

When a writer is working on their next literary masterpiece the first opinions to be asked for are usually those of the writer's family and friends. But often when we ask for a friendly critique we get more than we anticipated.

I remember asking my family what they honestly thought of my writing. My daughter and two oldest sons were careful not to hurt my feelings. My youngest son honestly declared that I am definitely not a poet. My husband bluntly told me that my writing put him to sleep but he thought that was a good thing especially when he had insomnia.

A couple of my friends insisted that everything I wrote was absolutely wonderful! Of course, that was a dead give away as to their honest opinion. Another of my friends didn't know a critique from a competition. Every time I asked for her opinion she automatically went into compete mode. The worst part was that she never did critique my work one way or the other. As soon as I would ask for her opinion on something I wrote she would just start bragging about her house, car, kids, husband and anything else she could think of. As you can probably figure, I stopped asking for her opinion.

The point is, if you want an honest opinion, asking your friends and family might provide you with anything but a truthful critique. Friends and relatives tend to be either too blatantly honest, such as my son or they tend to not be completely honest in an attempt to spare your feelings.

Being the friend isn't always an easy position to be in either. If you tell your friend you love her work, her reaction might be something like this, "Oh, you're just saying that because you're my friend." If you tell your friend the work is good but it could be better, you may get a response such as, "How can you say that? I thought you were my friend?" You might find yourself caught in the middle, feeling like you're doomed no matter what you say. Have you been in a situation like this before? Maybe you've put your friend on the spot. At one time or another, most of us have been on one or both sides of the fence before. It's not a good place to be.

If you're the friend in this kind of situation you might suggest to your writer buddy that he or she join an online writing group where critiques are gladly given. If you're not a writer you might explain that you just don't feel qualified to give an accurate critique. For instance, "You know me. I can barely write a letter and I can't even remember the last time I picked up a book! Are you sure you want MY opinion?"

But if your friend really knows you well he or she won't fall for such a feeble attempt to get out of giving a critique. If you are the one asking for the critique don't put pressure on your friends. If they don't feel comfortable expressing their opinion, then respect that and let it go. If you continue to pressure you might not be happy with the results. If you're going to ask for an honest opinion then you better be prepared to hear it.

Too often we think we want to hear the opinion of others but once those opinions are voiced we are upset with what we've been told. Even if you get a negative critique you can find something positive in it. Take something from it and find where you can improve. Don't let a negative critique upset you; let it make you stronger.

Joining a writing group can have its perks. You can get honest (well sometimes) opinions from writers who have the same doubts as you do. They can give advice, share experiences, console and uplift you through periods of writer's block or rejection. They can help support you as you work toward your goals and inspire your creativity. You can do the same for them. You learn from each other. So give your friends a break and write on.

Darlene Zagata is a freelance writer and columnist for the print publication Moon Shadows Magazine. She is also the author of "Aftertaste: A Collection of Poems" and "The Choosing." Her work has been published extensively both online and in print. For more information visit her website at http://darlenezagata.tripod.com or contact Darlene at [email protected]

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