Criticism in negative. Critique is positive. Criticism is nitpicking. Critique is instructional.
Even in my own writer's group it is common to hear remarks like: "You misspelled _________." "You should have used a comma there." While all well and fine if the writer is not aware of these mistakes, this kind of thing is often editing, not critiquing. Or do you get non-commital generic comments such as, "That was good." "I didn't care for it."
Here's some tips for getting more out of your feedback sessions:
- Be sure to ask the right questions. Rather than throwing your precious baby to the wind for general discussion, find out what you really want to know: Is the writing tight? Have I developed my characters? Is the plot strong or weak? Do you have a sense of place/setting? Is there too much narration? Not enough? Have I overused adjectives in my descriptions? etc. Ask specific questions.
- If you want editing, ask for it. You may want to preface your feedback session with, "I know there are spelling and grammar mistakes in here, I'm not asking for you to correct those. I want _________(see #1). Or maybe you DO want the corrections.
- That old adage: If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all applies. You probably don't like your work criticized either.
- Perhaps you can't find much to say about someone else's work. Suggest a market where it might get published.