When is critique criticism?

According to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, critique is a noun defined as “an act of criticizing; especially a critical estimate or discussion, such as a critique of a poet’s work.” A synonym of critique is review.

Now, let’s look at the word criticize, critique’s kissing-cousin. The first definition of the verb, according to Merriam-Webster, is “to consider the merits and demerits and judge accordingly.” In other words, to criticize is also to evaluate.

Only in the second definition of the word criticize is there any mention of fault or finding fault.

But, wait! Back up a bit. Did I just see the word merit? Something praiseworthy?

So, critique and criticism can be positive as well as negative? Way cool!

A few months ago, these two words showed up as blips on my radar at a writer’s workshop.

A new member, I was excited about the workshop. I was there to learn something new, to hone my craft. So, when I heard about the read-and-critique sessions, I signed up to read ten minutes’ worth of my 50, 000-word novel-in-the-works, By Her Daughter’s Hands.

” I’m glad you could make it, tonight!” said another member. “Are you planning to read?”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” I said, showing her the binder that held my draft. At that point, she pulled me aside, looked around the room, and lowered her voice to a whisper.

” Word to the wise? Take what you hear with a grain of salt.”

Minutes later, I entered the room. Some had paper copies of their drafts spread out on the table. Others cued theirs on their iPhones or iPads.

Soon, the moderator stepped up to the table and the session began.

“Kim, you’re first. You have ten minutes. When you hear the bell, stop reading. You are to be silent while the others are critiquing you. Only when they have finished will you be given permission to talk….

Those words said, I was off and running. I began with the prologue. I was reading a stirring scene in Chapter One, when I heard it:

Ding, ding! Time’s up.

At first, the group is quiet. Their faces, void of expression.

Quiet is good, right? I thought. My stellar talent has left you agog?

Not quite! Given their ten minutes, people around me piped up with their two-cents-worth. The mud-slinging began.

First came the women:

“What’s with the multiple points of view?”

“This isn’t a thriller!”

Did I say it was?

“I hear the same words echoed.”

Well, yodel-lay-hee-hoo to you!

Can’t say I wasn’t warned.

Then, the male population picked up their stones:

“That scene’s nothing more than a cat-fight!”

Well, duh? That’s what I meant it to be.

“What’s with the dialogue? And all that back-story? Jeez!”

“This is Lifetime Channel stuff!”

Why, thank you! Happens to be my favorite channel.

Ding, ding!

“Kim, it’s your turn to talk. Do you have any questions of the group?”

You bet your bippy I do.

“So,” I ask them, “I have heard what isn’t working for each of you. Now, I would like to ask what is?”

The group fell silent. Several traded looks.

” It is beautifully written,” admitted one. “Full of metaphors. Similes.”

“And I like your writing voice,” offered another.

Ah, now, that’s more like it, I thought, leaning back in my chair.

Point is, we’re in that workshop to improve our writing. To encourage and support each other. As writers, don’t we face enough challenges, enough competition, without criticizing each other?

Maybe it’s time to consider the real meanings of those two little words.




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