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Critiques are hard. During the SPX Spotlight on Jessica Abel and NPR, she spoke about the practice of giving good criticism and how important and valuable it is for an artist’s development. She encouraged those giving criticism to read or listen to a work in an open minded way that also takes into consideration the spirit in which the work is offered.

The critic should pay attention to what is happening inside herself while reading the work and notice where she loses the thread or emotional connection to the story. By being mindfully aware of his feelings, noticing where something is funny or boring or uncomfortable, a critic can offer unique insight and perspective on the piece’s content or pacing.

Abel even gave some tips for recipients. The receiver can reassure his critics they don’t need to be an expert in the topic or form, that their non expertness is actually quite helpful. The receiver should also listen to all of the comments first, without interrupting, then ask follow up questions. When receiving negative comments, the receiver should ask herself why the critic didn’t love the piece the way she loves the piece, and try to figure out how to amplify why she loves it.

It’s been over a decade since I’ve been in a writing group. That is changing in less than a week. I’ve signed up for the How Writers Write Fiction MOOC through the University of Iowa’s creative writing department, and I’ll be participating discussion groups and completing assignments starting October 1.

One of the main reasons I decided to sign up was to get back in the swing of giving and receiving constructive criticism. Giving useful criticism is a skill, and like any skill, if you don’t use it, it can be pretty rusty when you haul it out into the daylight.

I know I need to be part of the give and take of a writing group again for my development as a writer, but my social anxiety has usually gotten in the way of any attempts to join one. I’m hoping the MOOC will help me brush the cobwebs and weird fuzzy green stuff off my critiquing skills and give me the necessary boost I need to interact with fiction writers in the real world too.


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