Somewhere along the road, every fiction writer will be asked to participate in a critique. It’s practically a guarantee.
Whether we’re new to critiquing or are already teamed up with an epic partner (who should probably read this article too), we should aim to provide the best feedback possible. This can help us grasp facets of the craft that we couldn’t before. Aiding and encouraging others also builds relationships.
However, being a solid critique partner involves more than flagging spelling errors and noticing that “just” has appeared sixteen times in the last two pages. Regardless of how many mistakes we spot, we must consider more than the finer points of critiquing and understand how our own rhythm and mentality affect our work.
1. Find Your Rhythm
A good critique starts with the one performing the evaluation. The recipient’s skill level doesn’t matter, because the quality of the critique doesn’t depend on her.
As with any part of the writing process, we all work more efficiently at certain times, in certain settings, and using certain methods. This can make the difference between a stellar critique and a mediocre one. To give the recipient our best effort, we must figure out our rhythm and capitalize on it.
Follow a Strategy
When I critique, I like to draft comments and return to revise them later. I also tend to gain insight after I’ve had time away from the computer screen to think over the story.
Do you critique better in one sitting or in spurts? Can you lay out all your criticism at once, or will you need to soften your comments so you don’t sound harsh? Deciding how you critique best and sticking to that routine can reduce realms of mistakes.
Choose the Optimal Time
I don’t enjoy critiquing at night. When I’m tired, I have less of a filter. I don’t explain well and leave more stinging comments.
Are you more alert in the morning or at night? When do you have more patience? Are there other tasks you should accomplish before critiquing so stress won’t cause you to rush through the document?
Devoting time to benefit another person is hard, but gathering support and wisdom is vital for a writer’s journey. If we aren’t prepared or motivated, we might attempt to squeak by with a few surface pointers instead of going deeper. But committing to a time frame kills the temptation to shirk our responsibilities and do a bad job.
Measure Your Endurance
The longer I spend on a single critique or procrastinate before a deadline, the less I start caring about what I say.
We need to make sure we allot an appropriate amount of time for a critique, which might mean breaking up the project over several days or taking procrastination in hand so we don’t lose patience.
Determine Your Availability
This is a point I often miss. I like critiquing because it helps me learn about writing while forming connections with other writers.
However, to invest time into critiquing, we actually need to have the time. We shouldn’t accept every critique request unless we’re willing to sacrifice other activities in our lives. We may work harder under the pressure of multiple projects, but we’re also more apt to fail at being gentle.
Note: Though this article emphasizes tactfulness, some writers don’t need to be handled delicately. Layering on a few compliments is nice, but our relationship with the recipient will also influence whether our comments are refined and tactful or blunt and raw. But beware. Few thick-skinned writers exist, so if we’re unsure, we should lean toward tact.
2. Correct Your Mentality Through Prayer
Mentality is the root of many ills in critiquing. I still struggle with mindset issues, but we must fight them with a shift in perspective to give critiquing our best shot.
Sometimes we critique to boost our confidence in our own skills. If we can identify weaknesses in another person’s work, that suggests we’re knowledgeable. It gives our self-esteem a high.
However, when we dwell on this, we begin nitpicking and trying to unearth more mistakes because it creates fragile security. We start believing we’re smarter than other writers and that they need our advice. We slowly build our own superiority complex. We become less considerate.
When we pray, we’re talking to the God of the universe who knows every mistake our critique partner has made. He knows how long reading the manuscript will take, and our thoughts as we type up comments. He knows each reaction, edit, and pause. He truly knows all, not us. Our identity is in Him, not in how many errors we can weed out of a fellow writer’s work.
Praying over critiques turns our focus away from us and on to the other writer. It clarifies our purpose. We critique because other writers need the help. We are here to aid them while improving our own skills.
Critiquing is then no longer about how fast we finish, but about how to pace the task so the story gets the attention it deserves. It’s not about raising our own self-esteem, but about humbly marking potential problems while remembering that we don’t know everything.
Pray over your critiques, friends. It’s worthwhile.
Critiquing is more than bestowing our opinions on another writer. It’s a chance for us to encourage fellow word lovers and share an experience with them. When we put effort into discovering our rhythm and changing our mentality, we are helping writers grow. We are cheering them onward as they race toward their dreams. No writer achieves success without the helping hands of others. Through critiques, we equip our peers to be masterful Christian storytellers.
A long time ago on a hill not so far away, Gabrielle Pollack fell in love. Not with ice cream or cats (though those things are never far from her side) but with storytelling. Since then, she’s been glued to a keyboard and is always in the midst of a writing project, whether a story, blog post, or book. She was a reader before becoming a writer, however, and believes paradise should include thick novels, hot cocoa, a warm fire, and “Do Not Disturb” signs. Her favorite stories include Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn saga and Nadine Brandes’s Out of Time trilogy.
As those who know her will confess, Gabby is a whole lot of weirdness packed into one INFP. Sharp objects, storms, and trees are her friends, along with stubborn characters and, on occasion, actual people. When she’s not writing, she’s shooting arrows through thickets and subsequently missing her target, jamming on the piano, and pushing her cat off her keyboard. She hopes to infuse her fiction with honesty, victory, and hope, and create stories that grip readers from the first page to the last. Her other goals include saving the world and mastering a strange concept called adulthood.