As a writer in this ever-growing industry, working with critique partners can be the key to creating a strong support system throughout your writing career. Critique partners are often the ones who boost you when you are down, share the successes with you, and help you craft stronger versions of your work. And you do the same for them. Because it’s a partnership.
However, not everyone is comfortable providing constructive feedback to others, so they shy away from these partnerships or writing groups. It can be difficult to voice your thoughts in a constructive manner, to step outside of your way of writing, and to see someone else’s story vision. I believe this discomfort is good for us as writers—it challenges us. And being challenged as a writer is the best way to improve our own craft.
Maybe you question the value of giving feedback. Why should you give someone else your valuable time that could be better spent working on your own book?
The answer: it will make you a better writer.
Giving constructive criticism can:
Bring new perspectives to your own views: get you thinking outside the box
Make receiving criticism feel more relatable
Show you what works and doesn’t work in others’ writing so you can apply that knowledge to your own work
Get you thinking critically and analytically
Keep in mind criticism and constructive criticism are two very different things. Criticism, by definition, is the act of criticizing unfavorably. Constructive is an adjective meaning promoting improvement or development. All feedback you provide to other writers is most valuable when it is constructive, because it gives the writer an opportunity to grow.
If you’ve ever struggled giving feedback, you find it uncomfortable, or you want to know how to be a stronger critique partner, this article is for you.
Here are 7 tried and true tips for providing constructive criticism:
Remind yourself, “This is not my book.”
While reading someone else’s work, it’s important to remember that this is their story, not yours. You two will never tell the same story in the same way. Value their version, and understand that not everything you would do is right for their work.
Something I like to tell writers to keep in the back of their mind is, “How does it serve their story?” What is their vision? What story are they trying to tell? And what ideas do you have for helping them do that?
Remember when we were young and our parents and teachers told us to ‘treat others the way you would want to be treated?’ The same applies here. Consider how you wish someone would approach feedback they give you—now do the same for someone else. Be kind, encouraging, supportive, and respectful. Remember this is a vulnerable situation for all involved. They spent time and effort on this book, just as you have with yours. There’s nothing to gain by breaking someone else’s spirit.
Know your limitations
We do have our own limits, even if we aren’t aware of them. One thing to consider is what genres you know better than others, and what personal preferences may cloud your view of someone else’s work. For example, if you never read contemporary romance, then you may not know the expectations of readers in that genre. Or, if you hate paranormal romance, it’s not fair to tell the author you hated their book; you were never going to like it.
In a critique group, sometimes you don’t have a choice in what work you have to give feedback on. So in those moments, be honest. Let the writer know you have these limits, but still try to give useful input on their work. You can say something like, “This is what I liked, this is something I noticed, this is what stood out to me.” This gives them the opportunity to hear fresh perspectives with the background knowledge that it isn’t from their standard reader of the genre.
Always start with the strengths
Knowing what’s done well is just as important as knowing where a writer should focus their efforts on improving. By spending time focusing on the strengths of someone else’s work, you’ll also see what parts of a story or writing stands out to you. What’s important as a reader? What makes you want to read more of a story? These are things you can apply to your own writing as you understand the pieces that make a story great.
It’s important that writers are reminded of their strengths so they can feel validated, so they are more open to hearing the harder critiques, and so they are encouraged to revise the story to get it where it needs to be.
Do NOT just say, “It was nice.”
How much has that ever helped you when someone said it about your work? When you send to friends and family and they don’t give you anything concrete except, “I liked it.” Okay, but what about it did you like?
You and another writer entered this critique partnership because you both actually want to grow as writers. You wouldn’t want to be robbed of that opportunity. Why do that to someone else?
Give concrete examples
It’s important that a writer understands your reasoning for a note. If you didn’t like the main character, provide specific reasons or moments that made you feel that way. Even give some brainstorming ideas for how it could be improved. Ask yourself what would help you to know if this book was yours. A good outline for constructive feedback: It looked like you were trying to do X, but I felt it didn’t work because of Y, consider doing Z instead?
If you have general notes on the writing, point out specific lines of examples so a writer can see exactly what you mean. We can’t read minds, so be as transparent as possible in your feedback.
As always, remember, constructive criticism is meant to help a writer grow.
Looking to unwind, de-stress and rejuvenate? Download my free coloring sheets!
Connect with me on:
Join the FREE Writing with Coach McCoach writing support community HERE.