Hello, my name is Joelle Pigott. I am a writer and administrator of a peer critique group known as Literati Sedition. I have been performing peer critiques for the past few years. I have a couple rules that I think are imperative in the world of peer critiques, and I shall list them here, in order of importance.
- The two most important traits a critic must foster are honesty and compassion. Honesty, because we must tell our fellow writers, our fellow artists the truth directly and honestly in order that they improve their art and themselves. Compassion, because these works are not only the sweat and blood of our peers, they are their hopes and dreams. Causing people unnecessary emotional pain in the name of bastardized honesty is immature and unnecessary. Hurting people is not constructive, but discouraging. In addition, it is unlikely to encourage them to take one's advice.
- One must cultivate a neutral tone and critique the prose, not the writer. This is not a casual conversation with a friend, but rather a professional discussion with what might be a complete stranger. A casual tone may be easily interpreted as aggression, especially as one is frequently unable to discern tone from text alone. Focus on addressing the issues found in the work itself and avoid the pronoun “you,” because this often devolves into saying: “YOU did this wrong,” “YOU have failed.” It is more appropriate to say: “THIS does not work,” “THIS is incorrect.”
- One must also be detail-oriented and specific. It does no good to point out something flawed, but fail to address why it is wrong and what can be done to fix it. It only serves to perplex and frustrate the author, rather than aid them.
Below is a critique from a peer critic whom I view to be somewhat misguided as to the proper way to help one's fellow artist. Comments in brackets are from me.