The Wrong Way to Work with a Critique Partner

Filed under: Critique, Touching the Surface

I’ve been thinking about manuscript critiques a lot lately.  This might be because I’m evaluating the manuscripts of two different friends.  It’s a ton of fun, but so much work.  It is a time consuming process, but if you do it right, it can be as beneficial to you as it is for the person you’re helping.  

Have you ever critiqued someone else’s writing?  
It is scary (or at least it was for me) the first couple times I did it.  I second guessed everything I commented on.  Then I expended just as much energy worrying about what I had missed.  I was convinced that I was an idiot who lacked the magic editorial gene.  I KNEW I was doing it wrong.  
What I didn’t realize is that critiquing is a lot like writing.  It’s a muscle that gets stronger when it’s flexed.  Or to make it easier to visualize–it’s just like running.  The more you do the activity, the better you become at it.  You get faster and go further.  But running doesn’t just make you a better runner,  as you become stronger, you become a better athlete.  The benefits carry over.
So how does this translate to writing?  Sometimes it’s hard to practice the things that we’re learning (about writing) in our own writing.  We have so many balls up in the air at one time, some days we’re just lucky not to knock ourself unconscious trying to keep them all aloft.  CLONK!  When we work on someone else’s manuscript, we have the distance needed to safely practice using the tools in our bag of tricks.  And the beauty of this, is that our critique partner wants the exact same skill-set we’re bringing to the table.  They want fresh eyes.  It’s win-win for everyone.
Now, I freely admit that over time, I’ve grown by leaps and bounds in my ability to make suggestions in a manuscript.  The very fact that I’ve been through several rounds of edits with my brilliant editor, Anica Rissi of Simon Pulse, has given me the equivalent of a master class in critiquing.  And I won’t lie–I’m a lot more helpful now than I ever was.  Do I still have a long way to go?  You betcha!  But, even when I started critiquing and didn’t really know my ass from my elbow–you know what?  I was still giving a good and helpful critique.  
Seriously–I was–because I cared.  I read the manuscript with the same attention that I would want for my own book.  I commented with praise for the things that I thought were well done.   I tried to be honest in a kind way.  My suggestions for improvement were not attacks.  I gave a good critique because, at the core, I’m an avid reader.  I might not have been able to point out the same details I know today, but I could give an honest evaluation of when I was confused and state why.  I could tell you why character A made me swoon and why character B infuriated me.  In the margins, I carefully logged my organic responses as a reader.   And even though a question I raised, might get clarified two sentences later, the author now had a running record of my thoughts and how I processed their writing.  This is valuable.  
If you are a writer, you should have your work critiqued.  You’ll learn a tremendous amount from the experience.  You should also evaluate the writing of your peers.  It is an equally powerful exercise.  In the video below, Jackson Pearce gives a visual guide of how to work with a critique partner.  She gives great advice.  
Take it a step further if you must…  There are lots of things that you can do to enhance the critique experience.  There are a million blogs and books and videos that will give you wonderful advice on how to do it better.  Or even how to survive a bad critique partner.  *shudders*  

But in my opinion, if you’re a kind and thoughtful person, the only way you can really mess up a critique, is by being too afraid to try.  So get out there and throw on those scarves, hats and gloves.  Pull the skirt out of your Buddy’s underwear.  We are a tribe.  We work together to up the quality of everyones writing. And equally as important, to ensure that no one gets picked to star in the show What Not to Wear.  Team work is excellent!
What is your favorite tip for critiquing or being critiqued?
Additional critiquing resources:

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5 Responses | TrackBack URL | Comments Feed

  1. Great article – thanks for the links too – will have a look through those over a few days.
    Found you via Twitter

  2. Thank you so much-for your compliments and for leaving a comment. That was very sweet. So glad you liked it. See you on Twitter!

  3. I agree with you about about critiquing…even after I give my feedback I wonder if I've truly helped the person…some of it is, after all, my opinion. But in the end, I've done my best and that's all I can do.

    At one critique group I recently attended a woman presented detailed feedback using a worksheet. She used number grades to show how she felt about our characterization, voice, etc. It was a horrible idea because when she gave people a "1" it meant she felt they "needed much more work." It was insulting to everyone, so I'd like to add that feedback should not be given on a rating scale! (Another wrong way to work with critique partners.)

    Anyhow, I wanted to know I enjoyed this blog post.

  4. Thank you so much for stopping by the blog. Ugh! Even if I deserved a 1 (which I often do) I think that's got to be a hard one to stomach. I agree-the rating system isn't for me. I need to wrap my tender sensibilities up in words. :o)

  5. I remember the first time I betaed something–it was a ms by Debra Driza, more than 3 years ago. And I remember I told her, "Please don't expect anything from me!!" LOL. Seriously, I was a really bad beta. But as you said, you get better with time!

    Anyway, I'm stopping by to tell you that I think you're an AWESOME critter!! REALLY!! <333
    YOu could be a literary agent! Have you thought about that??? 😀

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