How To Give A Good Critique (And When It Is Just An Opinion)
By: Caitlin Rogers
Although the title is about how to give a good critique, a lot of this is also going to be geared towards an internalized point of view. Meaning, this is going to also be about when to understand this is a good critique versus this is just a half-baked opinion … at best.
Hey, and welcome back to Curiosity's Corner.
This time, it's not necessarily a ‘how-to’ in a sense of go and create; it's a’ how-to’ in a sense of doing internal, creative, and emotional housework. Sometimes it's hard to not connect you, the creative, to your own work; I get that. Then also making it hard to not hear somebody attacking you versus analyzing your work because they themselves do not know how to give a decent critique. Or because you yourself do not know how to take a fruitful critique.
Some of us went to art school or college, where you put your [ thing ] up in front of the class; everyone gets a shot as to what they think the piece does well, and what they think the piece does not do well. And sometimes, depending on if you were a ‘most liked’ person in that classroom, they actually focused on the topic at hand. Versus critiquing you, your person, or your character. ([They] being the students or the bad attitude’d professors.)
I've had a wide range of critiques. Go right. Go wrong. And sometimes just downright even asking, how did we even get here? What was the point? How did we start this conversation? Because this conversation now is no longer about the piece I had questions about.
I want to give you an acronym. This acronym is truly how I personally live life, how I make sure I speak to people.
But all in all this acronym is a formula that has not failed me yet with giving a successful, effective, and energizing critique. The acronym is the word T.H.I.N.K. And as you yourself, get a critique and give a critique, I want you to always think of this acronym. It's such a silly one that I learned back in elementary school. But God do we all forget sometimes the days of our childhood.
The acronym T.H.I.N.K. stands for:
Is it thoughtful?
Is it helpful?
Is it inspiring?
Is it necessary?
And is it kind?
When you t.h.i.n.k. before you speak during a critique, that truly helps you stay on task for actually helping nurture the creative that you want to build up. Sometimes people forget that this is the original point of critiques. When you remember this acronym you also remember that the point is also to be inspiring; that you want your words to be as necessary as possible because otherwise you're just wasting your time, their time, and your breath.
Now here's where it's a half-baked opinion.
It has to at least be two of those things. In my personal opinion, it is; Is it helpful? And is it necessary? Because kind can be subjective. Respect is always the goal and usually when people are respectful, they are indeed kind. But if it's not necessary to give that comment, then a lot of the time you can tell it wasn't needed because the aftertaste of that comment is usually led with, why did you say that? Why did we need to say that? What was the point of bringing that up?
Now, was it helpful?
Did they give you pointers on how to avoid a craftsmanship error? Did they address how to fix that pitch packet for next time; So when you submit to another publisher, maybe it's a bit more polished? Did they show you a new sense of direction that genuinely benefits your piece, however it needs to, and is helpful? If it isn't and you are left with more questions than when you started, consider it to be someone’s two cents.
In a lot of critiques, if you question the critiquer on what they said, they can give you their ‘why’. People who give their half-baked critique can't think of a ‘why’; it's empty there. It doesn't come from anything. Nothing thoughtful, nothing helpful, nothing inspiring, nothing necessary, and nothing kind.
While this Curiosity’s Corner is going to be much shorter, and your worksheets are going to be a bit more personal, you'd be surprised how many creatives I work with to this day that hold onto ‘not-so-thought-out’ critiques. And one thing that we should always be careful about here in our Corner, is that we always want to encourage curiosity. We always want to inspire and help as much as we want, and as much as we are able.
Words mean things and words have weight. So as you move forward, understand that we need to do better with how we use our words with others. You don't want to be that person that someone can name in an instant because they carry literally 10 years of weight. When it comes to your own work, you don't want it watered down by somebody who couldn't even be bothered to take actual time and consideration with your words, with your adventures, with your stories.
Your stories deserve more than somebody not willing to take the time and sit with you.
So please enjoy these worksheets and again always t.h.i.n.k before you speak.
And as always until another day,
Note: This is all under the assumption that you the creative have asked / have been given consent to have an open dialogue to critique. Without consent, any and all thoughts are just unwanted discussion and can evolve into harassment.