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Writing Fear Free: Critiques

Books are not babies, but hearing criticism of a newborn manuscript can often feel almost as personal.

Yes, I’m at the critique stage of the writing process. And yes, it’s still difficult sometimes. Writers put a great deal of work, time, and heart into a manuscript, and it is scary to think all that might be for naught. What if people don’t like it? What if I’ve made a fatal error that will require major rewrites?

Well, I thought I’d address some critique issues (and in the process encourage myself too). I’m also going to look at it from two angles: receiving and giving critiques.

On Receiving Critiques

  • Stop thinking of your book as a baby. Words mean things, and if you call it your baby, you will be more inclined to take critiques too personally. At this stage, I think of my book as a product. If my product is not understandable to people, then there is no point in publishing it. It has to communicate effectively and it has to be seen objectively. It should not be coddled and protected at this stage. Here is where it should be picked apart and rebuilt as a stronger product.
  • Be as objective as possible when approaching each suggestion. Ask yourself good questions. Will the suggestion help the manuscript? If so, do it. If not, reject it. But you have to question everything.
  • Realize that a negative critique might not mean major rewrites but actually will show where you need to be more clear in your intentions and explanations.
  • Understand that there is no flaw so enormous that it cannot be fixed. You can write your way out of whatever you’ve written yourself into. Trust me.

On Giving Critiques

  • It’s hard to give a critique in a truly constructive way. A helpful critique is more than just pointing out flaws; it is pointing out good aspects as well. And on the flip side, it’s not just saying you liked the book. If you have nothing negative to say, that’s fine; but in order to be a good critic, you must say what you liked about it and why.
  • Consider using the critique sandwich: compliment, critique, (restatement of) compliment. Example: Your characters really come alive in this description, but here you could use a little less physical description and more action so we can see your character from a different perspective. Your action scenes really bring out character well.
  • Don’t be timid about marking up a manuscript. I ask all my critics to use a bold pen and to make big marks on the paper so I can find them, but most try to hide their corrections by using small writing and black/pencil, which is nearly impossible to see. If your critique is honest and constructive (as described above), then you should not have to hide. It just makes it harder for the writer to implement your good suggestions.
  • Ask every question that crosses your mind. My mother-in-law is excellent at this, and it really spurs me to a better product.

I realize, of course, that this is easier said than done. Books are products, but they are also reflections of a writer’s greatest hopes and dreams. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but hopefully, this article will help you–and me!–to give and receive criticism in a helpful way.

Disclaimer: I’m not offering this post as a result of any of the critiques I’m receiving on Caroline Bingley. All my critics are good critics.

3 thoughts on “Writing Fear Free: Critiques

  1. I don’t know which scares me more – giving critiques or getting them. Actually, probably giving them. I like your idea of the critique sandwich!

  2. I learned that from my horsey mentor. When she corrects me, I don’t even realize it! She is that good at giving criticism. I hear: I’m good at this, I could do this better, and then, wow! I’ll be amazing. She makes everyone feel good and improves them at the same time. It really is a talent. I want to be like her one day.

  3. i hate being critiqued. i’m a graphic artist not a writer but this information was still very helpful and relevant. thanks!

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