Nov 052014



Benefits of writing critiques and how to solicit them

Last week I met with my city library’s writer-in-residence to go over a short story manuscript I’d submitted for a critique. A critique is a review and assessment of your written work. A good critique offers advice on what is and what isn’t working.

A well-done critique highlights what is strong in your story so you can build on it. It also points out areas which can be improved upon, such as confusing flow, inconsistencies, too much backstory, or not enough detail. It may pose questions which inspire you to think about the story in new ways and give it more depth.

There are a number of ways in which a writer can obtain feedback on his or her work.

Hire a professional to provide a critique. Many editors offer this type of service for a fee. You may find one through a local professional editors association or via an Internet search.  I suggest seeking out recommendations from friends and colleagues in order to find a good reviewer suited for your type of writing. Although a written critique without any two-way conversation can provide valuable information, I think the best experience is one in which you and the reviewer can talk face to face. Being able to respond to questions and ask questions provides greater insight.

Join a writing group, where small groups of writers meet regularly to share and provide feedback on their work. I’ve written about the benefits of writing groups before. At their best, you get feedback on what worked in your piece, what details or phrasing resonated with others, what confused readers, and ideas for where to go next with the piece. My own experience with a writing group has been positive, but some writers eschew them for a variety of reasons. Participants are usually not as experienced in critiquing as a professional. There is a danger at times of members trying to rewrite a piece according to their own styles or preferences. Members need to concentrate on providing feedback which helps each member write his or her best.

Many writers, even seasoned writers, utilize beta readers, a small group of friends or acquaintances who read the supposedly-finished piece and provide feedback. Unless these readers are editors or writers, their feedback is likely to be different than a critique. It provides a reader’s perspective and reaction – what emotions were evoked, where they became confused or bored, what they wanted to see more of.

Like me, check out services at your local library or local writers association. Critique services may be available at no charge or at minimal cost.

In my case, I learned my opening sentence was strong, utilizing sense of smell, but there were also a couple of strong sentences later in that opening paragraph which were good first sentence candidates. I rewrote the entire opening paragraph, capitalizing on the strength of those sentences and better setting the stage for the rest of the story.

I learned the story had great detail, but changed scenes too quickly and too abruptly. The order in which scenes were laid out and information presented was confusing and at least one character reaction lost its impact because the reader didn’t know yet what gave that moment such significance.

The writer-in-residence also highlighted which part of the story was strong, suggesting that was the standard I strive toward with the rest of the story. I knew, although couldn’t always easily articulate, the answers to questions about motivation and lessons learned (or should have been learned). Thinking more about those questions is leading me to a stronger ending.

Reading is subjective. People like different styles of writing and different types of books. A critique may also have elements of subjectivity in it. It is a good idea, therefore, to solicit feedback from more than one source. A good critique is constructive and provides information you can use to improve your writing. It does not impose the reviewer’s style or preferences. It is ultimately up to you, the writer, to choose how best to use the feedback.

What have been your experiences with giving or receiving critiques?

  18 Responses to “Value of Critique”

  1. Donna I had no idea that you were writing! Fantastic! My writers group saved me and my manuscript. There is such value in thoughtful critique, right? I’m glad you found a great bunch you could give you some direction! Of course you are right…ultimately it is up to the writer in choosing what feedback to implement. Best of luck!

  2. My wife and I critique each other’s work. I wouldn’t suggest that solution. You presented some much better ideas here.

    • My husband copy edits all my blog posts and is excellent at correcting spelling and grammar mistakes and pointing out confusing wording. He has also on occasion been a second set of eyes or beta reader for other articles or fiction. But for a critique or more detailed feedback on my fiction writing, I look elsewhere.

  3. This is a great idea Donna. I am planning on joining a writers group in December so am looking forward to that. As for having those close to me critique my work I kind of find that difficult. I am sure it is ego but with options out there for a professional I think that is the best solution for me to. Thanks.

    • I agree that getting people close to you review can be tricky. I hope you enjoy your writers group. In a good one, members provide constructive feedback that helps you improve without trying to rewrite your writing in their styles. You may have to attend a few meetings before you feel comfortable. Although writing groups are not for everyone, if you do find it isn’t working for you, I’d encourage you to seek out a different group in which you feel more comfortable before deciding to give up on groups altogether. I enjoy your writing and look forward to reading more of it.

  4. Hello Donna

    This is very informative post as I never thought to join any writers group and Now I will start looking for it. I do not know if I can find any but I feel I can get help on meet ups or couch surfing to get to such groups. I started writing few months before and am looking for some critiques who can help me improve.

    Thank you for a great share.

    • In my part of the world, local writers associations are one place to look to find writing groups. They often keep lists of groups looking for new members. Local libraries sometimes have groups as well. I don’t know if these are options in your part of the world. If you have friends who are writers or know other writers you can also reach out to them. In addition to getting feedback on my writing, I’ve enjoyed reading other people’s work. Hearing what motivates them and why they’ve chosen to write something a certain way is interesting and educational.

  5. The fiction workshops I took in college all followed Iowa Writer’s workshop guidelines, and the group I belonged to in NC used that format as well. Nothing can every really replace in-person feedback of one’s work. That being said, I have three critique partners I exchange about 6,000 words with every two weeks. We use Track Changes and Comments to give each other feedback. I’m having quite the time finding a group in Boise. The MFA students are engrossed in their programs, and the only meet-up group is a bit flaky. I keep asking myself whether or not I want to start a group of my own in the new year, but that’s sooooo much work when I don’t even know if I’m staying in the area. If I could start my first novel all over again, I would do more outlining, and I would have sent it off to a developmental editor a long time ago. The cost is worth how much faster it can make the process go. Everyone is different, but one thing is sure, there are definitely a variety of ways to see feedback.

    • Because you and your critique partners have some back and forth online with track changes and comments you are getting the two-way interaction I think is useful, even if it is not as immediate as face-to-face. Although I am familiar with the respected reputation of Iowa Writer’s workshop, I don’t know the specifics of their workshop guidelines. My group is respectful and constructive, but we operate fairly informally.

  6. Hi Donna – congratulations first of all for writing – I think that’s wonderful. I don’t know if there is any writer’s group near here but I think maybe, come Spring when the driving is better, I will talk to our library about it. Anyone who writes anything, including our blogs, can use critiques of value.

  7. I have a novel in mind and have been struggling to bring it to life. Will look into library resources. Thanks for the great article.

  8. Critiques are essential to any art form. It’s so hard to accept a critique, much less find someone willing to give you a good one! Congrats on your work, and thanks for sharing your resources!

  9. Critique is essential in all areas of life. We need it in order to improve whatever it is we are doing. So we need to listen, evaluate and learn. If not we will never develop and become the writer, or whatever it is, we have the potential to become.

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