How to Critique Creative Writing

A Few Thoughts on Critiquing or One Size Doesn’t Fit All

One of the difficulties in trying to establish some guidelines for critiquing manuscripts in a creative writing class or feedback group is the vast array of differences we see from piece to piece.  One piece may be whole and nearly perfect as it is presented to us (whether from a lot of revision or because it sprang fully formed the first time) whereas another may be just struggling into existence, a virtual embryo compared to the full term birth above. Obviously we cannot approach these two manuscripts in the same way. Likewise, what a piece may need is a macro approach, where we talk about large issues such as themes or the overall structure; or it may need a micro-approach, attention to the language in the first paragraph, say, which establishes a certain voice and tone–or doesn’t.  It may be a combination of these two.  There is also our sense of the writer, whether she wants and need a lot of criticism or needs basically affirmation in order to proceed, or permission to engage in a lot more process as opposed to rushing a product.  And of course there’s the possibility that we feel either blank in terms of our own response or overwhelmed and disorganized about how to address the issues.  In other words, one size does not fit all.  We have to be sensitive and adjustable regarding every piece of writing.  At the same time, we need some general ideas and approaches to guide us.

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Capturing Childhood/Engaging the Adult Reader

Capturing Childhood/Engaging the Adult Reader

The world of childhood is terrific material for writers, both memoirists and fiction writers and everyone in-between.  We all went through childhood, after all, so we can relate, and we know childhood to be intense, sensual, weighty.  Does anyone buy the myth of a happy childhood anymore?  Well, certainly some childhoods are happier than others, but regardless of how lucky we were in this regard, we usually can identify with children’s pain.  We “get” as adults how much things can hurt, how innocent or unprotected by our adult coping skills children can be.  We also can relish the freshness of experiences, the wonder of it all.  We seem drawn to see the world again through the eyes of children — and often that world, in writing, is more vivid than the one we experience through our own present weary vision.  Children are not “lesser” humans; they’re just at a different stage of the life experience.  They have the same ability to feel things (sometimes more intensely) and to have a whole consciousness, albeit not a particularly verbal one.  Therein lies the problem.  We didn’t have much language as young children; it was all sensation.  So the challenge for the writer of childhood stories is to capture the non-verbal felt experience of children while still appealing to the adult verbally sophisticated reader.

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Memoir Writing Bibliography

Memoir Writing Bibliography

Living to Tell the Tale:  A Guide to Writing Memoir.  Jane Taylor McDonnell.  Author draws on her own experience as a writer to give information on silencing inner critic; Learning to Remember; Imagination Coming to the Aide of Memory; Ethical Considerations in writing a memoir.  Includes an annotated bibliography of memoirs.

Writing the Memoir.  Judith Barrington.  Chapters on Getting Started; Finding Form; Scene, Summary, and Musing; Moving Around in Time; and more.  Writing exercises at end of each chapter and legal issues pertaining to memoir explained in the appendix.

Writing as a Way of Healing.  Louise De Salvo.  A rich resource that specifically deals with writing memoir as a therapeutic process.  Excellent research on the subject, her personal experience as a writer/teacher, and useful writing suggestions.  Wonderful writing book even if you’re not writing to heal.

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