Do you know how to critique a writer’s writing?

“You must not confuse being good with being liked.”~Paul Arden, American author

Tomorrow, Wednesday, is my second official Memoir2 meeting, and apparently I don’t know how to critique.

By official, I mean the second meeting where I present my work to the group for critique. Let me say, as before, the feedback is tough and just what I need to improve. However, feedback from my feedback is that I need to improve my critiquing skills.

“You’re line editing,” was the recurring comment from our moderator. I have no idea what that means. I know what line editing is, but I don’t know how that applies to my critiquing. When I offer feedback, I note any part of the work that is confusing to me as a reader, be that sentence flow, a lack of detail or an unexplored idea. I believe my comments are helpful, but what am I really supposed to notice?

I’m spoiled by my structured Michigan critique group, Deadwood Writers. An author who wants a piece reviewed at the biweekly meeting emails a piece of writing with three specific questions for feedback. On the night of the living critique:

1–Start by mentioning something positive, something you like about the piece.

This is important. This can be difficult.

2–During the meeting, speak only about the three questions the author wants feedback on.

Members ask about the flow of a piece, the voice of the writer or if a particular idea clearly conveyed. That last one is what I’m tripping on in New Jersey.

3–Write any additional comments on the paper for the author to read later.

Did you notice spelling errors? Maybe you saw capitalization issues, tense shifting or info dumps. Write that down and don’t clutter the critique time with that stuff. The author asked for specific feedback, so give that.

Here at the Montclair Write Group, things are less formal. We go around the room, and one by one offer our overall impressions on the piece. No formal structure, no guidelines–except, apparently, verbal line editing.

What a free environment. It’s so hippie-free that it’s downright scary. There’s no structure, no guidance, just immediacy. There should be time for reflection, I think. Then I realize, A reader’s reaction is immediate. You need that instant feedback because a reader stops reading in a heartbeat. They don’t have the luxury of critique background, and neither should you.

Or should you?

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