My “teaching philosophy” of manuscript critiques hinges on two things: respect and an absent of ego—not only for the writer receiving the critique but especially for the one giving it. There is categorically no reason to be cruel or insensitive, and one can give honest, helpful critique without damaging anyone’s sense of self. By the same token, the recipient must be mature enough to accept commentary on their work: workshops are not a place to expect only praise. But neither is it a place to deliver only criticism. It’s equally helpful to know what you’re doing well as it is to know where you need improvement and this has generally been my approach in giving critiques to writers, whether amateur or pro.
It is vital for a writer to hone their critiquing skills for their own development, never mind what they can also offer other writers in a workshop or one-on-one setting. Learning to critique well helps you to discern what is worthwhile commentary (or not) if you have beta readers on your work, or editors and agents who tend to be your “first” readers as a professional. Critiquing also hones your ability to better your own writing independent of outside input. You are, after all, your actual first reader. Through this, it also helps you to better work with editors and agents because if you can’t articulate why you made a certain decision in your work, you might find yourself changing your writing to suit other (albeit well-meaning) opinions that may not ultimately serve your work’s vision. Honing my critiquing skills has been an invaluable piece to my own creative development because it is essentially a practice in being as objective as possible about my work and removing an ego that may well get in the way of making the novel or story better. And isn’t that the goal?
The workshop was a valuable opportunity to workshop novels with other writers just as serious about their craft. Karin did a great job leading sessions and delivering honest, constructive critiques that were sensitive to the stage of the work, the genre, and intended audience. The workshop helped me take my writing to the next stage with confidence and the companionship of other great writers.