Writing Wednesday: Critiques and critique partners

What makes a great critique? Let’s look at two examples:

1. This is a great story. Love it. Thanks for submitting!

2. I don’t think this story works. You need to revise. Thanks for submitting.

Everyone loves to hear praise, but NO one likes to hear the words “this doesn’t work”.  Even so, we sometimes need to hear both. Even so, the above examples are TERRIBLE examples of critiques!

There is more to a critique than saying “I like it” or “I hate it”.

So what makes up a good critique? Here are a few things to keep in mind when giving AND receiving a critique…

 

Be specific. Vague statements don’t help anyone.

  • Don’t just say, “I don’t like this.” Tell the writer why you think something needs work and why it works beautifully. 
  • And if you receive a crit that is vague, ask the questions you need to ask to make your story better. “Why doesn’t this work? Why don’t you like it? Can you give me an example of what might work better?”

 

Don’t be afraid to say the hard thing.  Fluff critiques aren’t helpful at all. 

  • If you tell someone you think their story is sweet, cute and funny – but their characters are flat, the plot is horrible and they didn’t use spell check…your are no longer a critique partner. You have become a liar. Would you want someone lying to YOU? 
  • If someone always praises your work with no criticisms EVER – you’d do well to get a second opinion. Some of your work might be perfect…but not all of it will be.

 

Be objective and be smart. Be careful your critique is based on their WORK, NOT your likes or dislikes.

  • Let’s say you hate poetry, but one of your critique partners decides to write a rhyming picture book. Your ears burn. Your eyes water. What will you do? You put on your big girl panties (or big boy panties), set aside your “preferences” and get on with the critique! Don’t be an elitist and think your personal tastes are the only ones with merit. If everyone was like that, there would be NO critique groups whatsoever!
  • On the other hand: if you write in a completely different genre than most of your critique group (they write edgy YA and you write Early readers and picture books), you might consider joining an additional group that focuses on the same genre you do. If you are constantly critiquing 50,000 word novels and only submitting 500 word picture books, that is an uneven critique.

 

Don’t be afraid to teach.  Sharing your knowledge is good, but share your resources, too. 

  • If you are a more experienced writer and you know one of your critique partners is having a specific problem with voice, plot, whatever — share that in the critique…then share a book, article, workshop or something that will enable them to grow in that particular area. They can then choose to pursue that avenue or not, but it is then out of your hands.
  • Don’t worry if you are a “newbie”. Share what you’ve learned with your critique partners. Perhaps your “new eyes” will see something the others haven’t yet seen. And maybe someone else needs to learn what you have the ability to teach!

 

Be teachable. Don’t let pride keep you from becoming a better writer.

  • Maybe you are the one who needs to work on voice, plot, etc. Perhaps you need to go to a workshop, invest in a book or take a writing class. Even if you are the most advanced writer in your critique group, you can always learn how to do something better.
  • Receive the critique with an attitude of thanks. Even if the critique ends up being wrong, you need to at least consider what the other person has to say. Don’t get defensive. It always backfires.
  • Going to workshops and conferences is a sign that you know you don’t know it all. And sometimes you can go to a workshop and find out that you knew MORE than you thought you did.  You learn more about perfecting the craft of writing…and get a much needed “ego” boost in the mix. It’s a win-win! 

What do you think makes a good critique and/or critique partner?

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20 thoughts on “Writing Wednesday: Critiques and critique partners

  1. Great post! I started with a group that was, at the time, all mystery writers (including me). Since then, I’ve shifted to kids’ writing, but I’m staying with the group (it’s been almost 10 years now!), because they are strong critiquers and the trust/respect is so there. I do need, someday/somehow to add another kids’ genre group to my schedule–for now, I’m swapping every-now-and-then critiques with a few kids’ writers I’ve met locally & online.

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    1. Becky – oooh… mystery writers! I think it is a good idea to branch out, but that doesn’t mean you have to leave your other group. It just means you are spreading your wings a little! 🙂

      Swapping is good, too. I have two formal critique groups and a few other critique buddies with whom I “swap” all the time. Good stuff!

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  2. Fantastic points. When I first joined my critique group, I felt uncomforatable. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. After the first time, I jumped in feet first. I asked questions. I pointed out things that I was wary of. It was so much more beneficial to the writer and to me. When I would say, this confuses me because I’m not sure blah blah blah, I became more aware of things taht were also wrong with my own works.

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    1. Jumping in with both feet is the best way to approach a critique group, I think. And I, too, become more aware of things in my own writing when critiquing my buddies’ work. It’s a win-win! 🙂

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  3. Thanks for all the great info. I’m starting a local writer’s critique group next month and this will be great to share with them at our first meeting. I’ve also been working on something of a critique form for various genres and this is useful info for that as well.

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    1. Hey gal! Congratulations on the new group. That’s exciting! I’m so glad this was helpful to you. I hope it will be of use to others in your group as well!

      Let us know how your group is going!

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  4. Donna,

    I loved the reference to big girl panties or big boy panties. LOL.

    Critique groups are so helpful. I recently joined one online and I am learning and I think I’m helping the other members too, even one with several published NF books. We all have more to learn. The face-to-face group I participated in years ago which was adult and children’s genres got to be more like sentence #1. That wasn’t helpful at all. I eventually left the group.

    This was a terrific post. Thank you so much

    Linda A.

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    1. Linda – heehee! 🙂

      Sounds like you’ve found a group that is really a good fit for you this time. I’m happy for you! I hope it continues to grow stronger and stronger. I bet they were all extremely happy for you and your latest good news. I know I am! 🙂

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  5. Great! I love my critique group – don’t know what I’d do without them. Sometimes its that little thing that was just floating below my conscious level and when they point it out it’s like a light bulb goes on. “Oh yeah! I guess I knew that!”

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    1. Hi Lisa! I know exactly what you mean. Having that “AHA!” moment is fabulous – especially when facilitated by folks who you trust. I bet you’ve been a source of great help to them as well.

      YAY FOR GREAT CRITIQUE GROUPS!!

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  6. Outstanding post, Donna.

    What do I think makes a great critique group or partner?
    Honesty, courtesy, courage to disagree, teachability and great listening skills.

    You should post this at W2I sometime.

    Jean

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  7. Jean – Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and ideas on crits and crit partners. I’m always amazed at how very much I learn from the wonderful ladies (and gentleman!) in my critique groups.

    I’m glad you’re a part of my writing life, Ms. Jean!

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  8. I love it! I mean, more specifically – I love that you gave us specific examples and helped us to see critiquing from both viewpoints – giving and receiving.

    A really fantabulous book on critique groups is The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide by Becky Levine.

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  9. Good points, Donna. One more thing to consider – before handing over a piece for critique, I think we should make sure we’ve done considerable work on it first. We don’t want to waste our critique partner’s time or frustrate him/her by giving them a piece that’s still filled with mistakes or is still just our first draft. I’m not sure if others feel the same way, but it’s something to think about…

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    1. I agree, Cheryl. Even when turning in a “rough draft” in order to get initial feedback, I try to make sure I’ve done as much to it as I can. Even my rough drafts have usually been revised several times. 🙂

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  10. great blog and congratulations on the published article. I think I’m going to send this link to the Charlotte SCBWI email list. It succinctly encapsulates what critique groups should be about. You should send it to the Bulletin too!!! GOod job.

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    1. Hi Carol! Thank you so much! I don’t know if the Bulletin would accept it after it’s been on my blog. I can always email and ask, can’t I?

      Thank you for the encouragement, my friend! 🙂

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