The Good, Bad, and Ugly of a Writing Group-Part 3

by limebirdkate

Recently I saw a critique on the work of another writer. The critique irked me. I felt the “critter” was less interested in helping the author and more interested in beating his chest. While I think it is wonderful when we reach out to help each other write better, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

1. Write your comments and/or make your copyedit symbols neatly and legibly. It is very frustrating to go home with your reviewed material and being unable to read the notes someone left for you.

2.  Always, Always, Always start your critique stating what you liked, what you thought worked, what you want to know more about. Tell the author if you felt excited, scared, joyous, angry–any emotion that the piece brought out in you. In every single piece written, there is at least one great thing about it. Make sure you find it and complement the author on it.

3. Ask questions if there is something that confuses you. While the confusion could be a result of poor plotting, it could also be the result of a missing word.

4. Make sure you understand the premise of the story. If you aren’t clear as to the author’s intentions, then you are going to give inappropriate feedback.

5. Follow the author’s requests. She might not be ready for a grammar check, so don’t spend time telling her that she keeps misplacing her commas. She may be more interested in knowing if her characters are believable and engaging. You need to critique the areas that the author wants to hear about most.

6. Don’t ever assume that your critique is right on the money.  Just because something in the story didn’t work for you, doesn’t mean it won’t work for anyone else.

7. When you give feedback that is less than favorable, use kind words and a kind tone (even online). Always remember that you are giving an opinion, and always remember that you are critiquing someone’s creativity, someone’s ideas, someone’s work. Treat them with respect.

8. And always remember, your turn will come next. Best to behave yourself.

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12 Comments to “The Good, Bad, and Ugly of a Writing Group-Part 3”

  1. Very well said! In screenwriting classes we always had to let everyone read our work, of course (sigh!) and when we gave comments to each other it was always like this, start with something you liked, and no matter what we always had to pick something that might be weak in the story, or need work. It kept everyone civil, and also forced us to help each other.

    • Hi Laura,

      Yes, I think when we make the effort to point out the positive sides, then it shows the author she/he has written something valuable and meaningful. Even if there are a lot of flaws in the piece, knowing we did something well is usually enough to keep us going and trying again.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Excellent suggestions. I particularly like your last caution–what goes around, comes around, right?

    • Right on, Winsomebella!

      Plus, I think we learn more when we are open to a different approach or style of writing. In fact, this philosophy is really applicable in all sorts of situations.

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Thanks for posting this, Kate. 🙂

    It’s good advice for everyone.

  4. I love these bits of advice! Keep them going!

  5. I can only imagine one thing worse than receiving a bad critique and that’s giving one. I would have to think very, very carefully about how to do this as I could imagine only too well how bad a writer could feel. You have to find a way to accentuate the positives and be as constructive as possible. It’s so difficult because writers put so much of themselves into their books that it must feel like a bit of them is being torn apart when their work is. Very good advice Kate!

    • Great point, Sharon, I think it would feel awful to give a bad critique. It’s never fun to be on the receiving end, but who would come back to you for more advice if you didn’t critique in a way that was constructive?

      It’s quite true that when your writing is being critiqued, you can take it personally. I think it’s like that with any art form. I guess, for some of us, we eventually develop thick skins. I don’t know if I’m quite there yet, though!

      Thanks for commenting!

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