Giving and receiving critiques is a critical part of the writing process. It is the secret sauce that helps writers take their prose from rough drafts to best sellers. It is a way that we, as writers, can support each other in our common goal of improving our craft and our work.
Giving other writers criticism can be more difficult than receiving it and is a task frequently done indelicately. While intentions may be in the right place, the delivery of a critique is just as important as the content.
The Best Critiques are Constructive Critiques
Critiques are intended to help writers grow, and as such, if you give destructive criticism, it has the opposite effect and discredits you as a critic and a critique partner.
Additionally, when you are reading someone else’s work with the intent of helping them get better, it puts you in a place where you can see problems and help them fix it. This in turn will help you see these problems in your own writing.
Giving good critiques also establishes you as something of an authority, a writer to be trusted. It shows you are competent and able to navigate the problems that arise in many facets of the writing craft.
Here are some best practices for giving constructive critiques.
Ask What Kind of Feedback They Are Looking For
A good way to target the growth of another writer through critiques is to ask them what they are looking for. When you have an idea of what problems to look for, you can offer up a workable suggestion or examples they can research to help them with what they are struggling with.
Note that sometimes people just “want to know what you think,” and so at that point, just be honest without being brutal. Being “brutally honest” is just a way to give yourself permission to be mean.
Start with the Positives
Beginning your critique with the positives of the story establishes that you and the writer are on the same team. It legitimizes your credibility as a critique partner and helps the writer know what things are going well with their writing. It is easier to take criticism from someone who can see the good in your writing, rather than someone who seems to be out to rip you to shreds. Additionally, those great feelings that come from receiving a compliment on your work can help soften the blow of the oncoming feedback and help motivate the writer to continue improving their story.
Frame Your Feedback Within Your Opinion
Writing can be subjective. Just because someone’s piece doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean their writing is bad. It could mean that you are not the right audience. The same goes vice versa. Framing your feedback within your opinion can help the writer see whether or not they hit their target audience.
Style can also muddy the waters. Occasionally, writers will attempt to break rules in order to develop a specific feel, theme, or voice. Try to be sensitive to this and kindly let the writer know if the style they were channeling didn’t convey their meaning. Give specific examples where the style that may have confused or misled you.
Strive to Help Them Tell Their Story
Do your best to see the story the writer is trying to tell. Try to think of suggestions that would highlight what it seems the writer is trying to convey. Remember, this is not your story and you should lead them to write it the way you would.
Do Not Tear Down Other Writers
Do not, under any circumstances, tear down other writers. Doing so destroys your credibility as a critic and undermines the point and purpose of giving others critiques. It does not help them grow, it does not help improve, and it does not help them stay motivated. Denigrating other writers will make you enemies within the writing community and prevent you from finding good critique partners of your own.
Make an effort to give specific feedback. Telling someone, “It was weird and it didn’t work for me” doesn’t give them something to improve on. If you can’t pinpoint the problem, suggest examples the writer can study to help them develop a section you are unsure about, or give them specific examples of why something didn’t work for you. The idea is to give them something actionable to help them make their writing better.
You are not the god of writing. You may be good, but do not set yourself as the “end all, be all” for writing. We can all learn from each other and it is worth keeping your eyes peeled for lessons you can learn from each piece you critique. Keep in mind that you will occasionally misinterpret things and make mistakes. Be willing to learn from these moments and admit you are wrong, where appropriate.
What is the most valuable experience you have had with a critique partner or a critique group? What was it about the feedback you received that helped you the most? Let me know in the comments below!
Special thanks to the following for their input on best practices for giving constructive critiques:
Carol Clark – https://everydayfiction.com/about/
Len Barry – https://lentberry.wordpress.com/
Peter James West – https://www.bookbub.com/authors/peter-james-west
Udy Kumra – https://twitter.com/udykumra?lang=en
Brett Peterson – https://www.facebook.com/brandoch
CJ Erick – https://www.cjerickfiction.com/
Pat Hauldron – http://pathauldren.net/index.php/aboutpat/
Lazarus Chernik – http://www.chernik.com/
Monica Sagle Zwikstra – https://www.monicazwikstra.com/
Oleg Kazantsev – https://www.facebook.com/oleg.kazantsev