Step Four, Sigh More

I have never had the opportunity to critique a completed story outside of a classroom setting. Maybe if I did, I’d have a better opinion about my ability to critique, I don’t know. What I do know, is that my experiences with critiquing other people’s writing have been absolutely miserable.

I read, almost exclusively, genre fiction. Somehow, when you’re sitting in a classroom of twenty-nine other students you suddenly realize that not a single damn one of them write anything that I’d ever pick up for myself. Great. I could already tell that was going to be a great experience. Still, I was being graded based on my ability to give them honest feedback. So there goes nothing.

I’m assuming that problem I’m facing right there is precisely why editors will only accept certain genres. It’s difficult to give something a chance if the subject doesn’t inspire you. And in my undergraduate degree, I only ever read a couple of short stories that captivated me.

I could grudgingly admit that some of the stories I read were well-written with all the story elements in the right place. But it was difficult.

So my process for critiquing quickly became standardized.

  1. Print out the story
  2. Sigh
  3. Find my pen
  4. Sigh more
  5. Read the first paragraph
  6. Sigh again
  7. Put in random commas
  8. Read the next paragraph while sighing
  9. Make comment about imagery (have to say something positive, after all)
  10. At the end of the first page reward myself with a long sigh
  11. Make notes about where I’m confused or suspicions about where the story was going to go
  12. Make a comment on how my confusion was cleared up/made worse at later points
  13. Crow over being right about my suggestions/congratulate them on being able to pull the wool over my eyes
  14. Sigh more
  15. At the end go back and make sure every page has at least two comments on it.
  16. Congratulate myself on a successful critique
  17. Realize that I still have four more critiques to do by the next morning
  18. Stay up all night sighing over them.
  19. Go to class and make sure I speak up at least once during the critique session

And there you have it, my arduous process of critiquing while in school. I don’t think my classroom critiques that I gave helped anybody out. I know the ones I received (outside of the instructor’s) generally didn’t provide me with much insight. And let’s not even get started on my ability to critique poetry, because for that list there were eye rolls added to the sighs and at a much more frequent pace… and usually it was all done ten minutes before class started.

I have given feedback to friends on chapters of fanfics that they’ve been working on, though. However, those critiques differ greatly from the ones I gave in the classroom. For one, they were generally about things I obsessed about, which made me more willing to actually give them my complete attention. For another, I did not have the entire story in front of me, which meant many of the questions I had were about how events tied in with earlier ones and if they were going to tie in with later ones. They generally ended up turning more into brainstorming sessions about where they were going to take the story than an actual critique of what they had written.

I haven’t had enough experience with critiquing to say that I actually have a style or a process. But I can say that if the opportunity ever arises, I would be careful to only agree to critique things that stand a chance of interesting me.

At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.


  • Neil says:

    Yeah, I can sympathize. A lot of my ENGL 351 experience was me losing faith in half of humanity- and I’m guessing that’s just the tip of the iceburg of what you had to take, and the horrors you had to see.

    The only difference is that I would put my comments in text boxes before printing, instead of writing in pen. Few people can read my handwriting.

  • Yeah, college creative writing programs just get worse for genre writers. Generally, genre is frowned upon. There are a few genre-friendly MFA programs, now, but not many. I learned pretty quickly to hide horror behind literary language and scenarios and hope for the best.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.