A Writer’s Guide to Receiving Critique

A couple of weeks ago I posted about giving critiques to fellow writers, and today we’re looking at the other side of the coin: receiving critique. Some of this may be some no brainer stuff, but it’s taken a few years of watching myself and other writers take critiques and different ways we do it well and some ways we do it very poorly for me to finally figure this out.

So let’s get this party started.

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Before you send out your story…

Evaluate why you’re getting a critique.

For a while, I sent my stories out for “critique” to get a pat on the back. Of course, I would never (ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER) have said that aloud, and I never actually thought it in so many words… but my reactions to criticism betrayed me. My heart wanted people to love everything about my stories—which is normal, but in my heart, I also expected people to love everything about my stories.

Spoiler alert: that is not what a critique is about. At least, that’s not what it should be about. So before you send out your story, check your heart and unspoken motives to make certain you actually want to make your story better.

Be choosy about who you ask for a critique.

There are a few things to watch out for when deciding who to send a story to. First, don’t pull from only your peer group. If your writing equals are the only ones reading your story, the only level of excellence you will achieve is that of your peer group. No matter how long you’ve been writing or how much success you’ve seen, there is still so much you don’t know. To get the most out of a critique, it’s best to get the opinions of people from as many different backgrounds as possible so that you can get the most varied and in-depth feedback as possible.

Second, be careful to send to primarily (if not exclusively) trusted people who truly know and care about you and want you to grow and succeed. These people will give some of the most encouraging feedback, and they will be willing to say hard things gently in order to help you get better.

If all you ever hear from a certain critique partner is negative and proves unhelpful, stop sending them your stories. On the other hand, if all you ever hear from a critique partner is positive, excited feedback that strokes your ego but doesn’t challenge you, stop sending them your stories because they aren’t actually helping you.

After you get your story back…

If you’re upset by a critique, wait for your emotions to cool before replying; you want to respond, not react.

Alas, not all feedback is going to make you go over the moon. If it were, you would never grow. So, if/when you receive a critique that’s very upsetting, resist the urge to hop on your computer and rage at the person who gave the critique. No matter what they said about you or your story, you should never reply in the heat of emotion. There is no legitimate license for that anywhere in the world. Wait a few hours, or even days, if that’s what it takes for you to graciously reply.

Resist the urge to debate them about the critique.

This principle rules out passive aggressively telling your critique partner they’re wrong. They may be; they may not be. Regardless, don’t critique their critique. Friends, little will make your critique partners want to never agree to read and give feedback for you ever again like a response that insists—either overtly or subtly—that they don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re the only person who thinks that way. Such replies reek of disrespect and arrogance which stir up unnecessary strife between you and your critique partner.

Usually, the best way to respectfully disagree is the silent way since writing is not something worth serious conflict.

Remember why you’re getting a critique.

If you’re having a hard time swallowing a critique, it’s time to revisit why you sent your story out to get critiqued in the first place.

This is your story.

Now, receiving a critique with grace and humility does not mean you take every suggestion and negative comment to heart. First, remember that feedback will often conflict, so it would be impossible to make every change. Second, your job as a storyteller is not to produce something that makes everyone happy. Your job as a storyteller is to craft the strongest story you can. Take the feedback that helps you do that and throw out the rest.

Value your critique partners, especially the ones who give constructive criticism.

My brother Caleb is one of my favorite critique people. He’s not a creative writer by trade, but he knows stories so much better than I do and always has good input. Buuuuuuut, I kind of have to brace myself whenever I’m reading his critiques, not because he’s mean or anything like that but because he’s very clinical in his comments. Reading his thoughts is like pouring alcohol on a cut—it stings, but I know it’s going to go a long way in strengthening my story.

It’s been some of his suggestions on The Necklace and Our Family that changed them the most for the better (he’s the one who helped me out of the deep, dark early drafts of Our Family). I know I can trust him because he loves me and is always pushing me to grow and change for the better.

So when it comes to your critique partners, value you them and make sure they know that you value them.

Thank them. A lot. Like, a lot, a lot. Don’t forget that it takes time to read, digest, and then give feedback on a story, so thank them for their time and their thoughts. I don’t thank my critique partners enough, and I don’t believe we can be too grateful.


That’s all I’ve got for today, kids!

Here’s a huge shout out to my go-to critique partners: Daddy (the first to lay eyes on any of my stories), Caleb (the super wise dude), and Katie (basically the epitome of the balanced critique partner). <3 Thank you guys so much for all the times you’ve read bits of flash fiction and gotten back to me when I frantically send it in to you in the eleventh hour. Without you, The Necklace and Our Family wouldn’t be out in the world today.

With love,

Rosalie

P.S. – Do you have anything to add to this post? Anything you disagree with? What’s up for you this fine Monday??

A Writer’s Guide to Giving Critique

Here’s a post to all my fellow writers who stop in at Penprints.

After giving and receiving many critiques, I’ve put together this small (and incomplete) guide to giving another writer a critique on their story.

Let’s get started.

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Basics guidelines for giving critiques.

Begin and end your critique with the things you like. This is called an encouragement sandwich (I can’t remember who first came up with this metaphor…)—keep your criticisms sandwiched between two slices of all the things you like.

Personally, I have found this to be one of the best ways to deliver a critique because the first flavor is yummy—some things that are good about the story—,the second taste is bit more difficult to swallow since it’s some things that need work, and the last thing that’s felt is some more things that were done well. This helps the writer not be discouraged by the criticisms and suggestions in the middle.

Be careful with your wording.

Much of writing is subjective, so try to communicate that in the phrasing you use. You don’t want to give commands or deliver edicts; suggestions and questions are much more palatable. Use words like “perhaps” and “maybe” because it helps communicate that there isn’t one right way to do it and keeps the writer’s mind open.

Also, think more along the lines of the story and you rather than things the writer did “wrong”.

Instead of saying something like: “You didn’t describe this very well”, say something like this: “I’m having a hard time visualizing this. Maybe add in a bit more description and see if it sounds good.” Or something like that. The reason for this is that it comes across less like you’re attacking the writer and his/her writing and more like you want the story to carry author’s vision into the mind of readers.

Specificity is our friend, and vague-ish-ness…ish is our nemesis. When you like something, share why you like it. When something rubs you wrong, try to pinpoint what it was about it that didn’t sit well/you didn’t like.

Saying “I like this” is encouraging but uninspiring because the writer doesn’t know what about the description or the scene or the character grabbed the reader. And saying “I don’t like this” is discouraging and unhelpful because it tells the writer something is wrong but gives them no idea what about the scene or character isn’t shining for the reader.

Helpful mindsets for giving critiques.

Flattery is not helpful. Reserve your high praise for things you actually think are worthy of lavish high praise. If something is just all right, don’t say it’s amazing. If you don’t love something, don’t say you do to make the writer feel good. Don’t say what you think the other writer wants to hear.

As a critique partners, our job is not to make our writer friends feel good. Flattery—excessive, insincere compliments—only serves to give the writer false encouragement and cheapen the praise given by the flatterer.

I’m not saying don’t encourage because I’m a firm believer in giving encouragement like crazy; I’m saying don’t give encouragement where it isn’t due.

Be honest… even when it stings. Many times, I’ve gone over the moon for a story or a book by a friend and exploded with all my happy, excited thoughts and feelings, and it’s really easy to share what I think because I adore the story.

Spoiler alert: not every story is going to be easy like that.

Recently, being honest about my thoughts on a friend’s story was really, really hard because there were lots of things I didn’t like—way more things that I didn’t like than I did like. I dreaded writing out my final thoughts on the story for days because I knew she wouldn’t like what I had to say. I knew I wouldn’t like what I thought of it if it was my story. I wrestled with that critique—writing and rewriting it again and again because so much of it was negative. In the end, I was honest as gently as I could be. I still didn’t like it, and neither did she.

As far as being brutally honest goes, soften it as much as you can. Deliver the criticisms in the way that you would like someone to share their difficult/negative thoughts about your story with you. Treat them as you would like to be treated.

Remember that people won’t always like/agree with your opinion. Keep in mind that it is your opinion. It isn’t necessarily the right one, and you can be sure you mention that in your critique and do everything possible to soften—and even negate—the hard things you may say in your critique, and people might/will still get upset. That’s okay. It’s hard, but it’s okay.

A good friend says the hard things gently from a far purer heart than the flatterer who showers cheap praise.  

But also keep in mind that your criticisms could be wrong/baseless. You could be in the minority with your concerns and critiques. So don’t think too much of yourself and your thoughts that you can’t accept, not only that you might be wrong sometimes in the critiques you give, but that there will be times when you are flat out wrong in the critiques you give (because art is subjective and fun like that).

If your goal isn’t to enjoy the story and help the writer and the story grow, you’re doing it wrong. If your motives are off, your critique will be off. Never go into a critique with the mindset that you are going to teach this writer a thing or two or that they have so much to learn from your wisdom. Don’t try to inflict your style/voice onto the other writer. Conversely, critique isn’t about just patting the writer on the back.

Help and encourage out of a heart whose goal is to help and encourage.

Have you given a critique before? What did I miss in this small (and incomplete) guide to giving a critique?

With love,

Rosalie

P.S. – I kind of feel like this post was a lot of “don’t!”, but I currently lack the brainpower to spin this post into a more positive light.

P.P.S. – There will be a follow up post the week after next about receiving critiques.