Full-disclosure time here: when I critique a work from one of the other members of my writers’ group, I have selfish motives.
Oh, sure, I want to help the author produce a better work. Absolutely. That’s part of the deal with a good critique group. In fact, it’s a core part of the deal, a sine qua non: without that, there’s nothing.
But the truth is, I do it for me, too.
Some people I know say they won’t give an early draft of a work a thorough look because the material might go away in later drafts. That misses the point. One purpose of a critique is to help the author identify both the strengths and weaknesses of their work, which will let them then build on the strengths and fix the weaknesses. That might indeed mean deleting material.
But failing to identify weak areas–a form of conflict-avoidance, perhaps?–does not help the writer get better. To my mind, that failure is a kind of faith-breaking with one’s fellow writer: refusing to offer help/advice/suggestions, even if they choose not to accept it, means denying them the chance to get better. I can’t do that.
So what does that have to do with selfishness?
The selfish part of a thorough critique is that when I look for, identify, and articulate the strengths and weaknesses in someone else’s work–and in the case of weaknesses, suggest improvements–I teach myself how to do the same in my own work. And since, in the process of giving feedback, I get feedback on the feedback, that’s a form of learning, too: what’s helpful to that other writer, and what isn’t, and what ways of giving feedback are or are not helpful. All of which can only help me.
Selfish, selfish, selfish.
Or is it? Perhaps doing a thorough critique is a form of “paying it forward,” of giving without really thinking about or expecting to get a reward, yet getting that reward just the same.
Or maybe I AM expecting (or hoping) that the more I give, the more I pay forward, the more I’ll get back. And maybe become a better writer myself as a result.
Yup: selfish, selfish, selfish.