Ten things I’ve learned from giving and receiving critique


You may remember from previous posts, that I’m part of an online critique group in Author Salon.  It’s intense.  AS does not want thin-skinned writers who wither and whine, nor do they want wimpy critiquers.  They have stringent guidelines and templates to follow.  The questions to answer make you think critically, analyze, dig deep, and justify every comment.

It’s hard as hell, but it’s also teh awesome (misspelling intentional) 🙂

I’m not going to blog about finding a critique group, group dynamics, or any of that stuff.  I’m just focusing in on what I’ve learned from being on both ends of the process.

I’ll start on the giving end, and really, the way to think about a critique is that you are not just giving one, but gifting one.   I’m not saying I’m all that and a bag of chips, but if you do the job well, and put your heart and soul into it, you’re giving your absolute best to your partners.  You’re giving them a gift.  It takes me forever to do what I think is a good job, and I’m still not great at it.  I apologize at some point in every one, because ultimately, it’s just my opinion.

And away we go!

Five things I’ve learned from giving critique

  1. Be honest.  If you like what you’ve read, great, but don’t stop there.  Figure out why you like it and explain your thinking honestly to your partners.  If you don’t like something that you’ve read, that’s fine too, but you can’t leave it there.  Figure out why it bothers you and articulate those thoughts honestly to your partners.
  2. Be specific.   Rather than writing, “S/he needs to figure this out sooner,” again, explain it in detailed and concrete terms.  So, “The character you’ve written is smart and thinks on her feet (you may want to summarize an example from the piece).  You’ve placed several clues in his/her way (again detail the clues) but she’s/he’s not picking up on them.  Your protagonist needs to be at least as smart as the reader.  Have him/her connect the dots along with the reader.  It will be a more immersive/engaging experience.”
  3. Be reflective.  One thing I discovered almost immediately is that as I started analyzing the work of others I figured out a few things about my own writing.  Make notes to carry back to your own work in revision.
  4. Be consistent.  This is about bringing your A game every time.  Feeling tired/uninspired?  Write through it anyway.  The words will come just like they do when you’re writing your novel.  You can always edit out the unintelligible crap later 🙂
  5. Be better.  The more you critique, the better you get, the deeper you can go, the more articulate you can be about why a certain change will improve your partner’s work.

Five things I’ve learned from receiving critique

  1. Be grateful.  If you’ve given your best, expect that your partners have done the same.  Thank them for all their hard work.
  2. Be receptive.  You won’t like everything your partners tell you about the weaknesses in your work.  Get out of your own way and consider every point.  Then …
  3. Be selective.  You don’t have to enact every change your partners recommend.  In doing that, you’ll try to please everyone and end up pleasing no one.  But …
  4. Be critical.  If you choose not to accept the blood, sweat, and tears that is the advice of your partners, then start digging again.  Find the compelling reason that this won’t work in your novel.  Defend your decision, but don’t get defensive.  Finally …
  5. Be honest (redux).  There comes a time when all your justifications and refutations fall apart into the random collection of words that they are and you have to admit that you still have work to do.  You could see this as a defeat, but I’d rather reframe it as an epiphany.  When you finally understand what needs to be done and can see how to do it, the way forward will appear as a glowing path through the darkness.  It won’t be easy.  It never is, but if you keep the path in sight and walk it faithfully, it will lead you to a better novel.

Do you have any critiquing experiences to share?  What have you learned from them?

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Writerly Goodness, signing off.  Good writing to you all!

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5 thoughts on “Ten things I’ve learned from giving and receiving critique

  1. Thanks for sharing my post on Criticism. Sounds like you’ve had fun learning both sides of the fence. I critique and edit for others, so I know. It’s hard to be honest at times, but it is necessary. It’s not necessary to always be brutal however. Angie 🙂

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    • You’re welcome Angie 🙂
      The fine line between honest and brutal is subjective, and in the eye of the beholder, which is why the occasional apology still pops into my critiques. Ethos is a difficult thing to create.
      Thank you for your comment!

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  2. Got here. Thanks. I am going to refer this to a friend in a rural area who is trying to write better and has some talent. He replied to my blog about problems getting in a group.

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