4.3: The Critique Waltz

Purses inside journal mandala close-up

Fred Astaire was an elegant dancer,
but Ginger Rogers had to be every bit as good—while dancing backward and in
high heels. Being at the center of a critique may feel like tottering on high
heels, but after this dance lesson you’ll keep your balance.

Sometimes you lead, and sometimes
you follow. It’s all about connection. Each partner contributes to the style
and mood of the dance while keeping the conversation going.


Yup, knowledge is power.

·       Know yourself and your needs—in both your emotional and writing life. Do you receive
criticism easily? What kind of group will serve you best? What do you want from
the group? At what stage is your writing and where do you want it to go?

·       Know your group.
Are you comfy?  Does the level of writing
challenge feel like a good fit ?

You’re the boss.  Structure
keeps you safe.

·        Speak up! Make specific requests at the level
of response you want. Is it witnessing—listening while you read the piece
aloud? Or, technical: Does the story arc work? Is the plot plausible?

·       Props at the ready.
Consider writing your questions out to share with the group. Be ready to take
notes and be silent. Ask for someone to take notes on the group discussion.

·       Tell me more…or not.
Need further clarification or want to explore a comment further? If you’re not
convinced an idea will work, say why and continue the conversation.  “I’m not sure how that will work. I need to
think about it.” Had enough for one night? If you’re maxed out on information,
ask to continue at the next meeting.

·        Sort it out. It’s yours; the writing belongs to
you. Go easy on doing everything the group suggested. Maybe your piece just
needs a little tweak. Those final writing decisions are yours alone.


Don’t step on your partner’s feet. Relax!
Your partner is there to help you, remember?

Listen up!  When a group member speaks, pay close attention;
listen with more than your ears.  What’s
being said?  Who’s saying it? How does
your stomach feel? Oh, yeah: breathe.

Soak it up.  Even if you don’t
agree, a graceful response keeps the music playing. No need to explain or
defend. While you’re nattering on, you’re likely to miss a beat.

Cool off! If you’re feeling discombobulated after a critique (hurt,
misunderstood, or angry), no need to brood.  Sit out a dance while you and your manuscript cool
off. With a cooler head you can respond with a clear eye and balanced emotion.

 It’s the dance, sweetheart.   Critique is not
about you; it’s about the writing. You don’t need a make-over,
just brush up on your steps.

 Dancing and writing take hard work
and discipline. Keep practicing. Before you know it, you’ll be twirling across
the floor in the Critique Waltz. 


Column written by Janet Grace Riehl of St. Louis in collaboration with
Stephanie Farrow of Albuquerque.

Pose questions about practical creativity; give ideas for future cycle
themes; and join in the dialog in the comment section below.

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2 responses to “4.3: The Critique Waltz

  1. Janet, I enjoyed your dancing metaphor. It really works. And you make some great points. I particularly like your last point. It’s not about you…it’s about the writing. And that’s true for both partners. A critique is not an opportunity to show how much you know. It’s not about being superior. It’s about providing constructive advice and opinion to make piece the best it can be. Similarly, the author (the recipient of the critique) must learn to not take comments personally–for it’s not about her but about her story. And we’re all learning, growing, improving all the time.
    Thanks, Janet.

  2. Thanks, Kendra.
    Stephanie and I have talked about the topic of critique for years. She’s comfy with both giving and receiving helpful critique. I have been burned several times in critique groups, and so feel more wary.
    In this series of posts on critiquing we continued to have a lively dialogue. I aspire to put the tips into action that we’ve presented in these posts.

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