Separating the Subject from the Critique

Here is a dilemma I’ve run into over the years while critiquing the variety of writing I’ve been given;

What to do when the subject matter of the piece I am critiquing is difficult for me to read? I’ve read things that made me extremely uncomfortable. I’ve read about things that bored me to tears. I’ve read extremely graphic, violent pieces.

But the bottom line is that I’ve read them all.

And I’ve tried to give an objective opinion about the writing. This can be really hard to do, but I feel it’s very important to be able to separate my feelings about the subject matter and the quality of the writing. And I think I’ve been fairly successful at it.

I have a few questions about this:

Is it really possible to be objective and professional when faced with this kind of writing? Or do we just to the best that we can?

Have any of you run into this kind of situation and if so, how did you handle it?

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7 thoughts on “Separating the Subject from the Critique

  1. KWhipkey says:

    Thanks so much for the pingback! I’m glad you found my post helpful enough to include in yours. 🙂

    I think your question is an important one, and not one we tend to think about. But what do you do when you’re handed a piece of writing to critique that you would never pick up as a reader? I think, for me, I simply try to assess it as clinically as I can, separating my own personal preferences from the task as much as humanly possible and looking at the technical aspects. Does the story flow? Is the language correct? Has the author used various storytelling devices to maximum effect?

    But I’m not sure it’s ever 100% possible to set aside personal preferences completely. All we can do it try our best or recommend the author find a different editor/critique partner. 😉

  2. LillianC says:

    There are some subjects that for me are triggers. Recently my writing group has been using prompts created by members of the group. One member pushed strongly for a prompt about rape/violation. I had no intention of writing about that. What’s more, I did not feel comfortable hearing how my fellow writers wrote about the subject. The prompts are in theory optional, but some people feel compelled to play follow the leader and yield to the stronger personalities in the group. The resulting meeting was unpleasant and uncomfortable for many of us.

    In other critique groups, when a subject has come up that plugs into my own intense personal issues, I will mention that up front so the person whose work I’m critiquing can take my comments with the appropriate grain of salt. I do my best to be fair, professional, and useful according to all the good writing advice I’ve gleaned from various source. It’s hard, very hard, sometimes.

    • Lillian, I’m glad to hear that this has come up for others and that it is a difficult thing to deal with. I like that you mention up front when something may be a difficult or personal issue so the recipient of the critique knows what may be coming and then how to take those comments. I like that idea. Thank you for commenting. I found it helpful.

  3. drybredquips says:

    Thanks for liking “In and Out” and “lending hand,”Sherrie, and for your comment about the first mini-fiction I ever tried. As to critiques, I reviewed theater 36 years for the local newspaper, so I critiqued plays. My only tenets were that everything I wrote was subjective (one person’s opinion,- mine), and that everything I wrote must be truly what I believed.

  4. drybredquips says:

    Glad you liked “clipped,” Sherrie. Thanks for that and for your tender memories of honeysuckle. I’ve seen a lot of it, but never knew the things you pointed out about it. Best to you.

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