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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Giving and Taking Criticism

Part One: Being the Critic

I am still thinking about critical comments, but today I am thinking of them in terms of our work.

As writers, we read with a critical eye: therefore, we are critics. As writers, we also know that we need objective feedback on our work, so critics are, with a twist of irony, some of our best friends. Actually, the word “friends” is a bit questionable in this case, but if I elaborate, it will take me on another tangent, so I’ll save those thoughts for another post…

Today I want to write about the spirit of giving and taking criticisms regarding our writing.

I believe very strongly that writing should not be competitive. I understand however, that may people are competitive (I am not one), and therefore, the act of writing is often submerged in the characteristics of competition: offense, defense, and various “winning” strategies. This is important to note because as the critic, you have to tip toe through these elements with a great big, bold banner declaring your intentions.

You also have to know exactly what your intentions are. Your intentions may vary slightly from time to time, but generally speaking, these should be your base intentions: 1) identify confusion and inconsistencies (never fix them, simply identify them); 2) identify words, phrases and whole paragraphs that read exceptionally well; 3) identify errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar; 4) ask relevant questions to direct the writer to elaborate in some areas, cut others, reorder where needed, and add whatever you think is missing. Your intentions should also include something about meeting the needs of the writer regarding each specific piece of work. These are the mechanics.

The most important and overriding intention of all is to encourage the writer to keep going by seeing that what she has done so far is really good and that she has the ability within herself to make it really great.

You do this by honoring the style, the message, and the writer.

Begin each critic session with an open mind and an open heart. Before you ever pick up your red pen, feel the manuscript against the palms of your hands and envision the writer. If you are a praying person, thank God for the writer, the message, and your opportunity to be a part of the process.


  1. Wow! You explained the critquing process so clearly--I'm going to print this out to remind me of things to look for when I'm reading and critiquing manuscripts. Sometimes I get bogged down and lose track of what I'm supposed to be looking for. Thanks for posting this!

  2. Yep, glad to hear it, Linda!I actually thought about printing it out for the fiction group as well.