Signs of a Good Critique

Yesterday we talked about what to look for in a group. Today, let’s focus on what a *Good* critique is like.
Writing Tip for Today: How can a writer know the crits received are good, as in helpful and constructive?

  • The critique is specific. Remember your seventh grade book report? The teacher wouldn’t tolerate a general, “I liked it a lot.” It isn’t helpful to give a vague analysis, such as “I didn’t like it,” or “It was fine.” Be specific. And if you receive a vague crit, ask questions–but only after all crits are in. Don’t interrupt. You might want to jot down your questions so you don’t forget to ask.
  • The critique smacks of encouragement. If someone gives specific advice but laces the crit with, “I don’t know why you bother,” or “This is terrible!” you may be peeling your ego off the basement floor. In the facilitated groups I run, I always want the writer to leave a session champing at the bit, eager to get home and work on the manuscript. Writing is a difficult sport, and we all need support and encouragement in order to make our writing shine.
  • The critique is about you and your work, not the critiquer’s prowess with the English language. Some writers feel threatened and must show off their skills. If you receive a crit that points out flaws but doesn’t offer any remedy, the crit may be more about the critiquer than the critiqued.
  • The critique is delivered without malice. Similar to show-offs, some writers make everything a competition. “I can critique better than you,” is not only not helpful, it erodes the trust level of the group. We’re all different and we’re at different stages of the writing journey. A good crit respects this.
  • A good critique doesn’t sacrifice the big picture while pointing out the nits. In my groups, I ask members to mark “nits,” small things such as grammar, spelling or “ly” words on the copy and not waste the group’s time pointing them out. If you have 5-6 members, it will take far too long to line edit every piece. Organize your comments by referring first to “big picture” elements such as theme, plot character or scene writing, then as time permits, less pressing issues.

I’m sure there are more signs of a good critique, as well as other details. Should members of a crit group be friends outside the group? Is it necessary to meet once a week or does once a month suffice? Where do you stand on the issue of reading aloud vs. distributing copies in advance? Feel free to comment and bring these things up.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

8 comments on “Signs of a Good Critique

  1. Giving honest, constructive help to others in a group, as well as receiving criticism, is as much an art form as writing.

    The sandwich technique is key to giving. Ego suppression is important when hearing what others say about my work- they are usually correct.

  2. A good critique includes the opening. The big picture is necessary, but the opening gets people interested. If your first paragraph didn’t hook you critic, you need to know.

    Whys are always nice.

    Having experienced both in person and online, I prefer my online critique group. It’s similar to a weekly meeting without advance distribution, but you still get benefits of advance distribution (namely, a copy to read, puzzle over, and mark up).

  3. I’ve never belonged to an online group, but it sounds as if it works for you, kc. I agree that the opening is a key component. Many times a first draft’s “real” opening is buried on page 2 or beyond. ~Linda

  4. Karen, Finding a critique can be frustrating, but here’s how I’d go about it: First join any writing organization that is either statewide or has a local chapter, and inquire there. If that doesn’t work, try the closest college, parks & rec or continuing ed where you live. I always encourage my community college students to form groups at the end of a term. If that doesn’t work, look for an online group that works with your genre. YOu could try searching for “critique groups + mystery novels,” for instance. Readers? Got more ideas? Love to hear from you. ~Linda

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