A couple of things about critiques

  1. If you are looking for a critique to tell you that your work is good or bad, you’re looking in the wrong place. Rarely does a piece come up in a workshop where the most useful thing we can say is “It’s done, send it out” or “It’s awful, it’s unredeemable, trash it.” If a class is focused too much on evaluation – evaluating whether a piece as a whole is good or bad – it has the result of embarrassing and discouraging the weaker writers (who need and deserve encouragement) and puffing up the stronger writers (who need and deserve encouragement, but also, aren’t writing perfect stuff and still often need help making their pieces stronger.)
  2. When you are critiquing a piece you find weaker, you might often feel like you’re caught between being kind and being truthful. You might often feel as if the person you’re critiquing needs to hear certain harsh truths. “Your piece is bad” is not a harsh truth your critique partner needs to hear because – see above – evaluation is not that useful. Instead, find specific areas the writer could strengthen. Not “your story is bad” or even “the characterization could be stronger” but “I really wanted to know more about what made Elaine decide to kill the horse.”
  3. Don’t assume that every writer who asks you feedback is looking for the same things! In the early stages of a piece, for example, enthusiasm and encouragement may be more helpful than advice (especially small-scale stylistic advice). It’s helpful to ask the writer to articulate what they’re looking for.