Reflections from a Writer

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Today I’m sharing a friend’s guidelines for a meaningful critique. I’ve mentioned many times how strongly I believe in solid critique groups, and that all of my work owes much of its strength (and none of its errors,) to writers’ groups to which I’ve belonged. At the Santa Barbara Writers Conference some weeks ago, I met Nicholas Deitch with whom I’ve been friends for years on Facebook, but never previously met in person. He wrote the following discussion of what he sees in a good critique process. For those of you interested in establishing constructive critique groups, here are some great principles.

Guiding Principles for the Meaningful Critique

Nicholas Deitch

(Not copyrighted, free to share and evolve)

The following principles come from my years of experience in the creative realms of architecture and design, both as a teacher and a practitioner, and more recently from my endeavors in creative writing, as a participant in some wonderfully supportive writer’s groups and the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference.

Successful critique is rooted in mutual trust. This trust is not always readily established, but may be nurtured through a brief but honest introduction of the participants, why they are present, and what they hope to gain or share. In the context of meaningful critique, we are not concerned with finding fault, but with understanding the creative intention and supporting success.

Creative Intention

At the core of any creative endeavor, there is some root basis of intention. What is the maker–the Creative–seeking to achieve? What story, impact, emotion or transformation is the Creative seeking to impart? The critiquer should, above all else, seek to understand this intent and offer critique aimed at strengthening the work. In this way, the critiquer becomes an ally and even a guardian of the creative intention.

Through the principles offered here, I have witnessed the power of this creative alliance, when several people come together to share their work, and support each other through meaningful critique. In such critiques, all participants will learn and grow through the process, often in surprising and unexpected ways. In fact, the meaningful critique should be considered a creative process in and of itself. Author Matt Pallamary has referred to the phenomenon of the ‘morphogenic field’ in reference to the escalating creativity that can result in the midst of these gatherings, wherein the Creative and the Critiquers find a place of creative resonance, out of which some wonderful and surprising ideas often emerge that would otherwise likely remain unexplored or unrecognized.

This is a wonderful and exhilarating thing to experience, and the best critiques leave all participants feeling energized and enthused.

Principles for the Meaningful Critique

There are always at least two participants in a meaningful critique: the Creative–the person sharing their creative work to receive a critique, and the Critiquer–the person listening or observing the work with thoughtful intention to offer constructive feedback. Note that there is a benefit to three or more participants, as a way of balancing the critical feedback. Critique is the realm of opinion, not fact nor dictum.

  1. Seek the Creative’s consent before offering anything but praise. The Creative must be in a spirit of reception to hear and receive the critique. Note that by participating in a Critique Session, such as a Writer’s Group, there is implied consent.
  2. The intention of a meaningful critique is always about supporting the Creative in doing the best work of which they are capable. The emphasis should be on finding the strengths of the work, and then offering ideas to strengthen it further.
  3. A meaningful critique requires an openness on the part of the Critiquer–to first listen, observe or read fully, and comprehend the work before offering any feedback.
  4. A solid critique is inclusive, speaking to strengths and challenges of the work with balance.
  5. Meaningful critique comes from a place of honesty, and a desire to build up the Creative in their work. Honesty requires courage on the part of all participants, to be open to hearing the truth of others, and the willingness to be truthful in the offering. This is not always easy, but is essential if the goal is growth and the bettering of the work.
  6. There is rarely a right or wrong in a critique. There are opinions, ideas, conventions and perspectives. A good critique leaves room for the unorthodox, the innovative, the divergent.
  7. If the Critiquer has no critical feedback to offer, they are likely not trying hard enough, or may be concerned with imposing distress on the Creative through the process. Learning to critique, and to receive critique, is an art in itself, and requires practice. Most every creative work leaves some opportunity for improvement, or even for continued evolution in the body of work yet to come. However, on some occasions, likely after much hard work, accolades my be the most honest response. This is cause for celebration.
  8. Remember that the Creative remains the sole arbiter of the critique, with the authority to use, modify or discard any of the information shared by the Critiquer.

The measure of success of a meaningful critique is the level of gratitude shared by all participants at the conclusion. The greater the gratitude, the greater is the measure of success.

This material is offered without copyright or reservation. Use, share and evolve freely.

Nicholas Deitch, Ventura, CA, 2016



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