Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Criticism is hard to take, but most of us are too close to our own work to recognize the flaws in our writing. That’s why being in a writer's group or having critique partners can be beneficial, even crucial to a writer. With that in mind, I thought I’d jot down some thoughts on what it takes to be a good crit partner, whether in a one-on-one relationship or in a group setting.


1. Critiquing, when done right, should be a give and take situation. So be reliable. You know how anxious you are when you let someone else see your baby. So put the poor person on the receiving end out of her misery and complete your crit within the agreed upon time. For example, my writer’s group meets once a month and we expect everybody to have taken the time to read and critique everyone’s work by the next meeting. If you have a crit partner, the time limit will be much shorter than that, especially if someone is under the gun on a deadline of some kind.

2. Before you set out to critique another writer’s work, be sure you know what they want. Do they need/want structural help or plot suggestions? Do they have an area of weakness they need help with, say, for example, dialogue tags or commas, conflict or formatting? Are they ready for an honest-to-goodness real critique or are they at the beginning of the learning curve and need some gentle suggestions to improve their writing?

3. Be constructive and positive. If you find a problem, offer a suggestion on how to fix it. Be respectful of the other person. You don’t want to shut them down.

4. Know that it’s okay if they don’t take your advice. It’s not your story. Writing is subjective and everyone has to find their own voice. Your job is to help make the work better, not make it your own. (Something I need to work on, as I tend to get carried away and do too much of a rewrite. Soooo much easier and FUN to edit someone else’s work than to actually write something of my own!)

5. Try and find something positive to say about the other person’s work. We all have strengths and weaknesses as writers. A few flowers on the page never hurt anybody and might be what someone needs to persevere in the craft. Mary Kay Ash says, “Sandwich every bit of criticism between two thick layers of praise.” And remember Mary Poppins’ sage advice: “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”


1. Don’t be a taker who never gives back. It should be a reciprocal relationship.

2. Don’t overload the person giving the critique. In other words, don’t expect them to critique your whole book in one sitting, unless they’ve agreed to be your Beta reader. No more than 20-25 pages at one time, especially if you belong to a group where there will be multiple submissions.

3. Don’t take the criticism personally. Remember, it’s subjective. Opinions are like behinds, everyone has one. Find me a writer everyone loves and agrees upon. Go on. I dare you.

4. With that in mind, don’t take it out on your crit partner or writer’s group if you get your feelings hurt by an honest, constructive critique. In other words, don’t use the fact that your work needs tweaking as an excuse to eviscerate someone else’s work. I know people this has happened to. Ugly.

5. Finally, give careful consideration to advice given, but remember it’s YOUR story. It’s up to you to decide whether to accept your crit partner’s suggestions or reject them.


Debbie Kaufman said...

I operate by that old rule of thumb that says if two or more people are pointing out the same problem, it's probably an issue.

When I give a crit, I wait a bit and then look over what I've said. I try to be careful to sandwich the criticism with praise.

M.V.Freeman said...

I am not a good critique partner.

Its a sad fact.

I can recognize things that stop me, or plot holes, but that is the extent of my help I can give.

I either praise over much--especially if I really, really like the story and writing.

Or I am too nit picky.

So, I am careful who I critique.

On the other hand I have a handful of excellent critique partners--one can be very brutal, but brings out the best in my writing.

Like you Debbie, I also listen to if more than one person has an issue over the same item.

Excellent post Jeanie~

Carla Swafford said...

I've always said you're a smart lady and you've proved it again!


Jeanie said...

Debbie, you are so right. If several people are telling you the same thing in a critique, you might need to rethink. And it's always good to let a crit marinate before sending it on.

Jeanie said...

Mary, how wonderful to have a tough critique partner who challenges you. That's what the goal should be, whether giving or receiving, to make the writing better. As for your critiquing ability, recognizing plot holes is a biggie, in my book. Easy to miss when you're writing, because you're too close to it. But so much better to have a friend say, "Hey, what about?" than to have egg on your face with an agent or editor!

Jeanie said...

Carla, darling, you ain't no slouch in the smarts department yo' own self! Hugs back.

Christine said...

I am blessed with all my CPs... they give the best of themselves to me and that is what I strive to give to them. And yes, always easier to "fix" other's works. That's why my comments are littered with notes that say "just a suggestion , dump if you like" or "merely playing but go with your gut..." the goal is to help, not hinder the writing voice.

Great post!