Somewhere along the road, every fiction writer will be asked to participate in a critique. It’s practically a guarantee.
Whether you’re new to critiquing or are already teamed up with an epic partner (who should probably read this article too), you should aim to provide the best feedback possible. This can help you grasp facets of the craft that you 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 you spot, you must consider more than the finer points of critiquing and understand how your own rhythm and mentality can affect your 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, you’ll 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 your best effort, you must figure out your 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 you aren’t prepared or motivated, you 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 your 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.
You need to make sure you allot an appropriate amount of time for a critique, which might mean breaking up the project over several days or accounting for procrastination so you 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, you actually need to have the time. You shouldn’t accept every critique request unless you’re willing to sacrifice other activities in your life. You may work harder under the pressure of multiple projects, but you’re also more apt to fail at being gentle.
Note: Although this article emphasizes tactfulness, some writers don’t need to be handled delicately. Layering on a few compliments is nice, but your relationship with the recipient will also influence whether your comments are refined and tactful or blunt and raw. But beware. Few thick-skinned writers exist, so if you’re unsure, you 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 you’ll need to fight them with a shift in perspective to give critiquing your best shot.
Sometimes you’ll do a critique to boost your confidence in your own skills. After all, if you can identify weaknesses in another person’s work, that suggests you’re knowledgeable. It gives your self-esteem a high.
However, if you dwell on this, you’ll begin nitpicking and trying to unearth more mistakes because it creates fragile security. You may start believing you’re smarter than other writers and that they need your advice. Slowly, you build your own superiority complex. You become less considerate.
When you pray, you’re talking to the God of the universe who knows every mistake your critique partner has made. He knows how long reading the manuscript will take, and your thoughts as you type up comments. He knows each reaction, edit, and pause. Your identity is in Him, not in how many errors you can weed out of a fellow writer’s work.
Praying over critiques turns your focus away from yourself and on to the other writer. It clarifies your purpose. You critique because other writers need the help. You’re here to aid them while improving your own skills.
Critiquing is then no longer about how fast you finish, but about how to pace the task so the story gets the attention it deserves. It’s not about raising your own self-esteem, but about humbly marking potential problems while remembering that you don’t know everything.
Pray over your critiques, friends. It’s worthwhile.
Critiquing is more than bestowing your opinions on another writer. It’s a chance for you to encourage fellow word lovers and share an experience with them. When you put effort into discovering your rhythm and changing your mentality, you’re helping writers grow. You’re cheering them onward as they race toward their dreams. No writer achieves success without the helping hands of others. Through critiques, you’ll equip your peers to be masterful Christian storytellers.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on December 28, 2018. Updated July 19, 2021.
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.