The Art of an Effective Critique

Eight (long) weeks ago, my family and I pulled up sixteen years of deep rooted life from Amish country PA and moved to the land of scorpions and cacti in AZ. At the time, I was concerned with the more obvious needs we would need to establish, once we arrived in our new home. Things like, a job, a place to live, school options for my girls, and which church we would call home. The fact that I left behind years of effort in locating writing groups, local conferences and connections with other writers sort of eluded me, at first.

Then I arrived in our new home state. And I had no weekly critique group to attend. No monthly gathering of writers at the LCW meeting. I’d moved too far away to even attend the handful of writer’s conferences that would take place over the summer. (Oh, how I missed you Realm Makers and Write His Answer!) It hit me like a slap in the face just how very alone I was out here in the desert. *Sigh*

So it came with elation – and possibly a cartwheel or two – when I was recently contacted by a fellow writer I had met upon arrival in AZ. She invited me to be part of a small critique group – one that would remain intimate enough to give effective criticism, while fulfilling that need to gather with other writers. *Joy*Glee*Jubilation*

I still have a long road to building up the support system I had on the east coast, but this is a fantastic start! As I hone my critiquing skills, I thought I’d share a few ideas on what makes an effective critique.

1. Sandwich your suggestions. It doesn’t matter how seasoned a writer you are, hearing bad stuff about what you’ve written can sting. Even if it’s absolutely needed and will make your piece 100% better. So it always helps the writer to hear these words of critique when ‘sandwiched’ between something positive. As you read through and give thought to the things you will say about a particular work, be sure to begin and end with a positive comment of some value

2. Put on your helpful hat. We all have our own opinions. And yes, those opinions will carry over into the critique. But before you speak, think: Is this helpful? It’s possible you might be critiquing a piece that isn’t a genre you care for. Know why you give the suggestion you give. Saying it’s just too sappy for characters to kiss when the piece is meant to be a romance won’t help the writer know how to make the piece any better. Kissing happens in romance, after all! *wink* It’s possible that kiss bothered you because there wasn’t enough build up, which is what you should convey to that writer. This also goes for saying something with kindness. Everyone has room for improvement. Be careful not to use harsh words when you deliver your message. Think things through before you say them.

3. Be specific. Even if the feedback is positive, saying things like, ‘This is good’ won’t help the writer know what about it is good. Be specific in what you liked and didn’t like about the passage. Note where you were confused – even if the next paragraph cleared it up. The writer will want to know if she/he should change those paragraphs around. Read the piece out loud – is there a section where you stumble? If so, then other readers will stumble, too. Let the writer know so the words can be altered to flow.

4. What does your gut say? Not to confuse you after #3, but sometimes you might not even know why something sticks out in a writer’s work. It may be the way a sentence is worded or it might be the writer’s voice. If you’re just not sure what it is about a particular section of work that bothers you, convey that to the writer, too. We are all at a loss of words sometimes, so I can absolutely respect when someone mentions there was something missing or off about a sentence/paragraph, but they just couldn’t put it into words. Do tell the writer if you have that internal nudge. If one person feels it, it’s likely a handful of others feel the same way. 

Okay. Those are a few pointers on how to give effective critique. Have any other suggestions to give? Feel free to leave a comment below with what works for you, when helping another writer out with a read through! It might be exactly what another writer needs to hear!

Happy writing, friends!!

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Photo cred unsplash by Alejandro Escamilla

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