There is nothing more valuable to a writer than a critique partner. It’s a relationship built on mutual respect and trust. Quality feedback elevates a writer to the next level, helping them to see possible blind spots, their strengths, and to pinpoints areas to that might need tightening. It’s important when critiquing that we remember to be responsible. Our input should be kind, thoughtful and constructive. After all, who doesn’t love to have their writing complimented, but is it helping the writer to grow?
Set the stage before you start
When you start working with a writer, the aim is to determine what the writer is trying to achieve. Ask about the project: you want to know what the writer hopes to gain and what they specifically want help with by working with you. It’s critical that you clarify what type of feedback you’ll give.
- Find out what category and genre the book falls into.
- Read the pitch.
- Discover what stage the revisions are in.
Note: I’m happy to work with my critique partners after the first draft, because I know their work, and they’ve specifically asked for feedback on developmental edits. But if I’m working with someone new, I expect them to have done several rounds of editing, and to be near the querying stage. Of course, this is just my personal preference, but it is important to understand what is expected and/ or required of each party.
Get a feel for the story
It’s easy to jump into the critique process, leaping on every detail that needs work. But hold back and read through the chapter to get a feel for the story and it’s structure. At the end of the chapter, or set of chapters, go back and revisit the areas that you feel needs work to help the writer achieve what they‘ve asked for. Remember to ask the writer how extensive the feedback should be, and respect it. If the writer wants in-depth, honest, feedback on line edits, developmental pace etc. – then give it! But if they only want help strengthening their main character, then it is vital that you stick to the original agreement. Maybe the writer doesn’t want to feel overwhelmed by the process.
In line comments
I love to add in-line comments in the margin of the document. This gives the advantage of being specific with my feedback. I may make notes on anything from sentences that don’t flow, grammar, pacing, or areas that need fleshing out. And I’ll especially focus on what I love. It’s important to realize that the writer believes their story is ready to query: filling their WIP with constructive feedback is going to pinch, so balance that out by showing them what they do well. Don’t waste your time pointing out every spelling mistake, grammatical error, passive writing or words overuse. I might point them out a few times and then have faith that the writer will apply what they think is relevant to the rest of their story. They wrote the novel, and they’re capable of editing it, too.
Over all feedback
Give your feedback on what worked, on what may need attention, and ask questions for areas that you felt needed clarification. Don’t tell the writer what to change. Remember this is their work and they have full control of the writing – respect that!
- Frame your response with I or for me, statements.
- Make observational notes to keep it neutral.
- Avoid saying ‘Don’t’ and ‘try not to’. Instead, phrase it as if your giving a suggestion with comments like: ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’, ‘have you tried’, ‘might’, or ‘what if’.
- Ask questions to help form clarity of their intentions.
- Offer suggestions for change.
- Share you experience, or lasting impressions of the story. (e.g. this is a story of redemption. The character arc really portrayed their growth in trust.)
- Comment on the writing, not the writer.
Receiving constructive feedback is hard. Feedback may uncover the need for big changes – that is tough for any writer. Yes, this process will make them a more resilient writer in an already tough industry. But remember, candid feedback should not be soul crushing. Be supportive!
Writing is difficult. It’s a learning curve. A story is subjective to every reader. Make sure your notes are a positive experience for the writer. Help them learn. Build them up, don’t tear them down.
The goal of any critique is to help a writer tell the best version of the story they want to tell – not the one you might write. Be respectful, be curious, be specific and enjoy yourself.
Don’t forget to leave a comment and share your thoughts. You know I love hearing from you.
Thanks for stopping by, until next time, Much Love.