Thursday, February 27, 2014

Let's Play

Re: Critique Partners/Beta Readers
The best critique is almost useless if it does not activate the writer's internal critic. This can be done by acknowledging the writer has not been wasting his time, that there is something good on the page, which cannot be denied...a good reader empathizes with the writer's vision, sees beyond the words to what the writer is trying to achieve with those words. Good readers ask questions and make writers see where they have succeeded and where they have failed. And most of all, good readers make you want to write.
~ Barry Lane (from Discovering the Writer Within)

Critiquing is a pretty common topic around the blogosphere, because we can approach it from so many different directions. In Discovering the Writer Within I came upon an interesting way to look at our work - a new way to play the beta reader game.

Barry Lane shares a strategy of Peter Elbow:
To be good critics, writers must learn to play both the believing game and the doubting game when they look at their work. The believing game has to do with basic faith that you have something to say. The doubting game is about questioning the effectiveness of your writing.

Cool, huh? But wait...there's more!

Barry adds that,
A big mistake young writers make is seeking out readers and critics before they are ready to stop playing the believing game. The best criticism from a skillful reader will only offend or discourage if you are not ready to distance yourself from a piece of writing and play the doubting game.
I like the simplicity, yet dead-on truth, of this philosophy. Too often, we aren't ready for real feedback; we still need the basic reassurance to keep going, the assurance it's going to be worth it. We have to be emotionally geared for the criticism BEFORE we ask for it, or it won't be as valuable to us.

Do you skillfully play both the Believing Game and the Doubting Game?



  1. I wholeheartedly agree with this, especially your takeaways that we need different types of feedback depending on where we are in the process and that we need to be emotionally prepared for and open to criticism before we ask for it, or we waste its value.

    I don't know how skillfully I play the believing/doubting game, but I've become aware of it in my own process. I'd like to think I'm getting better and better at the game all the time.

    Excellent post. Thanks for sharing, Shannon!

    1. Thanks, Victoria! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I just love Barry Lane. He's full of great advice and writing tips. :)

  2. Great post and wonderful suggestion to be open to the criticism before we ask for it. I can see such value in this in a school setting too. (We've had quite a lot of writing assignments at school the past month and I think I'm gonna use this for the next one that comes up.). Thank you!

    1. Yes! I talk to my students about it, too. :)

  3. Getting feedback is hard. I always tell myself the manuscript isn't perfect. It needs work. I need to hear what the work is. But it's a different beast--the critique. When I go to work at school, I don't get that kind of magnifying glass on my skills (or lack thereof). It's hard to hear so much of what we're doing wrong.
    Thanks, Shannon, for such a terrific post. We writers need to remember the critique is to make our manuscripts they can be.

  4. Really good food for thought, Shannon! I like the idea of dividing these into believing and doubting games. Cool concept!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!