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Well there’s an interesting question.

Here’s another thought to ponder, which is more germane to writers: what’s the difference between criticizing and critiquing? The word “criticize” has the connotation that someone is only pointing out the negative aspects of something, although it does include in its definition the idea of looking at both merits and faults of something.

“Critique” sounds so much fancier (as do most words when you say them in French, as long as you pronounce them correctly). (And I’d like to digress a moment to say that b-e-a-u-c-o-u-p is pronounced “bo-COO,” not “BOO-coo.”) (OK, I’m done digressing.) (For now.)

Critique means to look at something critically, objectively and (one hopes) with some judgment or rationale. It’s not an emotional, personal attack. In theory.

So how does this play out for beginning writers? Many of us, at some point, find ourselves in a workshop where we need to share our writing out loud with others.

Our hands hold a paper on which we have dared to write down our experiences, our dreams, our imaginations — and all in the hope of getting it published someday, perhaps. Now we’re about to cast these words into the air for others to volley back and forth amongst them. It might be the first time these words have been given breath and made audible. By hearing them and commenting on them, our listeners make them real and validate us as writers. It’s forgivable if our hands shake a little, even a lot, as we read and serve the words into the air for the first time. We’re not looking for a service ace here. Oh, what a horrible feeling if they land with a thud amongst our audience and no one gets the ball going. We also fear the dreaded spike back in our face from the listener who’s only out to show that she’s a better player than we are. That’s not a good team player.

So where do we learn how to play this game of how to take someone’s prized possessions — their words — and play with them, think them over, and volley back suggestions for them to consider when they take their ball back home?

The two most common places are graduate school or writers’ workshops. I received my master’s degree not through an MFA program but through an MA program. If you don’t have the ability to commit to a multi-year graduate degree, the writers’ workshops are going to be a better option.

Here are some of my favorites, as well as a few that are very highly considered:

If you’re in the Cincinnati area, I am holding workshops to focus on the art of critiquing, called “Writing Workshop Workshops.” The next one is April 17, 2011, at Allyn’s Café on Columbia Parkway at 2 p.m. Here’s more information.

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