I had never critiqued someone’s work, or had my work critiqued ( see my earlier post 'The Lonely Life of an Indian Writer’) by another writer. So it came as quite a shock for me when a writing friend I had met at a workshop conducted by my publisher asked me to critique her short stories.
I was pretty nervous, not only was she a new friend, she was also the only writing friend I had. I didn’t want to lose her as my critique could upset her, or, hurt her feelings. Before I could reply she said she would email the stories to me as she wanted another writer’s opinion on them before wishing them Bon Voyage. “ You are free to make changes, edit it if you feel the need for it,” she said.
The next day I downloaded the stories. As I read them I realized that they were good, but riddled with several grammatical mistakes which she had perhaps overlooked. Structral errors I can understand, but not grammatical errors at her level (she has been writing for several years). I know that its easy to be critical of others ( but let me tell you that I am extremely critical of my work too).
As I switched on the track changes tool and started editing I realized that doing critiques was like looking in the mirror. I became aware of all the mistakes I tend to make while writing short stories. Very often we write the way we talk, without paying in depth attention to either grammar or tense. As I waded through her stories I realized that the first impression I got was that the soul of her stories was good, but the attention to details was missing. The feeling that came across was that she had written the stories in a hurry, as though racing against time and she had to finish it any which way. Several times I felt that she could have handled the scenes differently, added tension and done away with boring descriptions. She could have stayed away from common frequently used clichés, invested in imaginative and innovative similies.
As I plunged deeper and deeper into the critique, I felt like I was staring in a mirror. My reflection appeared before me with all its faults magnified. What I considered a great piece of writing ( my stories) must have looked pathetic to my editor. Did she have the same expression I had while editing ?
That episode has brought about several changes in me, has made me more conscious of my grammar and tense. Nowadays I read each line several times, pay more attention to plot, tension and character growth. I consciously stray away from clichés that we should have left behind in junior school. When I read any descriptive paragraphs I have written, I wonder whether my descriptions can be more original. I have become ruthless while editing my work.
Does doing a critique of someone elses work help you become a better writer? Does it make you aware of your own writing mistakes? I would love to know if critiques are like staring in the mirror for you too?