Critiques: Watching Your Tone

In giving or receiving feedback on your writing, it’s important to learn the elements of good writing. As you practice, you’ll likely graduate from pointing out passive language or “ly” words, to more complex issues. But what about your attitude?
Writing Tip for Today: We’ve all experienced harsh or hurtful crits. A group I’ve been in for years once called me the “Hatchet Lady.” It made me realize there are better ways to get my point across than to cut a writer down to size.

  • Sandwich it. I’ve mentioned before the “sandwich method,” where you give a positive comment, any not-so-positive and end with another positive.
  • Mutual Admiration Society or a Death Panel? Of course you don’t want to be so sensitive that your critique ends up not helping with things that could improve the writing. But neither do you want a toxic atmosphere where one or more members live in fear or worse, stop writing because of the way a critique is delivered.
  • Always Begin with Big Picture. It doesn’t help to reword sentences if the whole paragraph or section must change. If you are still learning how to spot structural issues, listen to a group member who consistently knows where the problems lie. If your group doesn’t have anyone like this, consider paying a facilitator who’s a pro.
  • Have Lunch Before You Crit. I once attended a group of more advanced writers who seemed to revel in “having me for lunch.” I think it’s far more helpful to use phrasing such as, “This doesn’t sound like something your character would do,” rather than, “your character is shallow.” The “you” messages, no matter the intent, seem to sting more than a simple statement on what to do to fix something.
  • On Whose Authority? Finally, let’s face it: some writers are as gracious as sledgehammers in delivering critiques. Some famous writers/teachers have absolutely no tact and their mission is to cull the wannabes out of the game. My philosophy is different: If I go beyond just saying something is “wrong,” and at least give suggestions for fixes, writing is a pursuit that culls itself. The ones who aren’t going to make it will fall away without my kick in the rear. And the ones who will make it, if only they get a tiny bit of encouragement and real help, will be better writers.

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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.

1 comment on “Critiques: Watching Your Tone

  1. Great advise on a touchy subject. Ive had people blast me with rude comments and then Ive had people like you who know how to do it constructively. I think we all learn more from the constructive part of the constructive criticism.

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