For the last week or so, I have mainly been critting. Critting, short for critiquing, has something in common with reviewing, and something in common with full-on literary criticism, but is in fact neither.
When you crit(ique) a story you are not looking for ways to rubbish it or show how clever you are compared to the writer, nor are you looking to bolster the writer’s ego by saying nice things. A fair and firm critique looks at what works in a story, and at what doesn’t, and tries to unpick both, then communicate this to the writer – ideally face-to-face – in order that the writer can revisit, and improve, their story.
Being critted is an experience I’d recommend to any writer wanting to advance in the craft. When you start out it can be traumatic (‘They fail to appreciate my genius!’ or, in the case of my first critted story, ‘How can I have been so stupid!’) but once you get that (a) it isn’t personal – the critiquer is talking about the story, not you, when they say negative things – and (b) ultimately, you can ignore what they say if you choose to, then there is no better way to up your game.
The Milford technique is so called because it arose at the original Milford Writers SF Workshop, founded by Damon Knight in the US some decades ago, and currently taking place at a scenic and remote retreat in North Wales. The critiquers take turns to deliver their comments on a story in a fixed time, while the author stays silent (which can be tricky, I can tell you). At the end the author gets to respond. At a good Milford session the conversation then moves on to a discussion of how best to fix any problems that came to light in the critiques. Of course, opinions may differ: one person may hate your story – and be able to list their reasons – while another person thinks it works pretty well as it is, but if ten people all point out the same plot hole, you’d be wise to listen.
Before the internet, authors lugged a dozen or so printed copies of their manuscript to the workshop and gave them out on the first night, after which everyone disappeared to their rooms to read the pile they had been given. These days, most stories get circulated in advance: hence my current, highly enjoyable task, of immersing myself in others’ fiction. And of course, if you’ve done your homework before you arrive, then that leaves your evenings free for those other two important writerly pastimes: talking bollix and drinking.