Critiquing Etiquette


Today’s post will be dedicated to critiquing etiquette. In my previous post, I listed a bunch of blogs that I thought about writing but didn’t and promised to write the one that got the most comments. Jan from Crazy Jane the writing life of Jan Morrison left the first comment advising she’d be interested in reading a blog on proper critique etiquette. Jan, this one is for you. Medeia Sharif commented that she liked “Thinking about Writing is Not Writing”, stay tuned for that blog post.

Early in my writing career I learned that to become a great writer you must trust others to help you see the error of your ways. I was lucky enough to find a great critique group lead by an excellent writer. Throughout the years some of the writers left the group for different reasons but every one of them helped me learn the craft.
I believe the most important thing to remember when critiquing the work of another is to do it with class.
* Don’t be sarcastic
* Don’t critique the person, critique their work
* Don’t compare their writing to yours
* Don’t focus on negative things only
* Don’t tell them that their story will never sell
* Don’t make them hate writing
* Don’t be afraid to be honest
Where you are weak someone else is strong and vice versa. I might be weak in punctuation and grammar but strong in plot structure. I could have a great plot but if my commas are in the wrong places and my sentences are run-ons, an agent or publisher might reject me quicker than a child going down a water slide.

*Do let the writer know any spots that confuse you. Sometimes the writer thinks they are conveying exactly what walks around in their mind when they are not.

* Be honest but tactful. Always add some sugar to your words. Don’t make your fellow writer feel like they have just been punched in the stomach. Do say something like “I like the imagery in this scene but I am not sure it offers any merit to the story.”
Don’t say something like “This scene is completely irrelevant. I think my fifth grader could do better.”

*If you are going to offer a critique, don’t be lazy about it. There is nothing worst than receiving a critique that only has a comment every ten pages. If you think the story and writing is superb and needs no adjustments for several pages list something positive, like “Wow, I just read through two chapters without stopping,” or “I loved this sentence.” The smallest comment can build confidence.

*Critique someone else’s work the way you would like your work critiqued.

*Try and keep your deadlines. I have only participated in online critique groups. I have never attended a face to face critique session. The way our online critique group worked was we had six members, three would submit in the beginning of the month and three at the end. We requested that all critiques be sent in no longer than three weeks. (You can decide your own time frames).

*If you are providing a critique and sending it via e-mail, be sure that your comments are written in a different font color. Imagine how difficult it would be to search for comments if everything was in black.

*If you cannot give a critique for any reason please let the receiver know. It is not nice to make them wait only to tell them later that you didn’t get to it. Sometimes life interferes with commitments. When this happens it is okay to inform your peers that you won’t be able to offer a critique this time around due to whatever circumstance arises.
An instructor once told me to immediately start editing after receiving a critique. She explained it is better because everything will be fresh in your mind. I have found that this cannot always be done. It is okay to skim through a critique and then tuck it away for a week. Many times comments or suggestions that made me want to cry initially became much clearer and made perfect sense a few days later.

What did I forget? Are you in a critique group? What makes a good critique group?

*There are no mistakes in writing only lessons to be learned*

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Critiquing Etiquette

  1. Jan

    Thanks and just in time! I like all of these and I would add – get your contract at the beginning – tell the person doing the critique what you’re looking for – even offer them some questions. If they can’t do the sort of critique you are needing at that stage then save them for a later one. I have a friend who is great at line editing but couldn’t tell me anything helpful at an earlier ‘under-construction’ phase. I save her!
    Thanks again as I do a last polish for my first readers!

  2. Great post.

    I’ve only been critiquing for a little over a year and hope to give meatier critiques. I learn a lot about writing by giving and getting critiques.

    I left one unprofessional critique group in 2009 and right away I entered a fantastic one. Some people can be negative, needy, tardy, rude, etc. I love my current group.

    Happy New Year.

  3. Thank you for posting this! I’m in a writing group where we frequently critique each other’s writings and I find it very useful. I find that your list of things to keep in mind reflects my experience a lot – and put some things into words for me. 🙂

  4. This is great advice. Our critique group uses the sandwich method, where offer positive comments at the beginning and ending, squeezing in between the areas we think might need work. Our egos are fragile, and it’s nice to know what we did right.

    • Maribeth

      Hi Julie, thanks for visiting my blog. I am glad that you found it helpful. A good critique group is priceless. You can only become great with the help of others.

      Nice to meet you!

      Maribeth

  5. All great tips Julie. And how about “avoid gushing” because even tho we all want readers to gush over our work, it really isn’t a critique. Some where in the middle between gushing and cold silence is good.

    • Maribeth

      Hi Karen, it sounds like you and Julie are in the same critique group. I love giving and receiving critiques. It is one of the hidden treasures of writing.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Come again,

      Maribeth:)

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