A critique group can make or break your writing.
Choose the wrong one and their bad advice can ruin everything you did right in your story. Or worse, a bad critique can kill your confidence and make you want to quit writing altogether.
More than a few critique groups have killed a promising writer’s confidence before his career got started.
Choose the right critique group, though, and something magical happens. Great feedback. Guidance. Deadlines that keeps you writing. Knowing with certainty when your story translates well on the page. If it affects your reader the way you want it to.
Yes, writing critique groups can be invaluable.
But it all comes down to the critique. How you approach it. What you say about each other’s work, and how you say it.
Here’s how I approach critiques. This method helps me give balanced and constructive feedback in a way that gives the writer something to reference while she’s revising.
First, a quick note.
This Writing Critique Method is for Serious Critiquers
This approach to the writing critique isn’t for everyone.
For some, this approach feels like homework. They’d rather skim the page. They’re only comfortable making general statements like “I liked it” or “I didn’t.”
This approach goes deeper.
It requires you to fully engage with and consider the writer’s work and provide practical, actionable feedback. For some writers, this is the only way to give a critique that’s worth the time you spent on it.
This approach works especially well for the introvert. If you’re like me, you need time alone to process your thoughts about somebody’s work. If I attempt to give my thoughts while I’m thinking them, while I’m reading or right after, they come out garbled and don’t really help the writer.
And writing it down instead of speaking it out provides the writer with a tool she can refer back to as she revises her work.
Read the anatomy of a balanced writing critique next, and be sure to download your free writing critique template below.
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The Anatomy of a Balanced Writing Critique
Everything you need to include in your writing group critiques.
#1 Basic Information
Include the name of the work you’re critiquing (if it has one). That way the writer knows which feedback goes with which of her writing projects.
Include your name and contact information too. It’s helps the writer to know who provided which critique, so she can keep your comments in context.
Bonus: It also makes it easy to contact you with follow up questions.
#2 What Worked
This is where you tell the writer what she excelled at. Focus on the positive here.
This section matters because writers need to know as much what they did right as what they can improve.
It also keeps your review from feeling like an attack. We can’t learn when we’re feeling defensive. So this section helps to keep your critique constructive.
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#3 Opportunities to Improve
Here you’ll share what didn’t work for you. Was the pacing off? Did it feel like summary? This is where to mention that.
State your issues plainly and in neutral language. It’s a waste of time to cushion your statements with phrases like “it’s just my opinion that” and “not that I know everything about writing, but…” It’s clear that this critique is just your opinion, because it’s your critique.
But that doesn’t make it okay to be insensitive either. For example, you might say that a particular paragraph dragged or that you found you wanted to skim a particular section, instead of calling it “boring.”
The goal is to offer feedback in a way that doesn’t make the writer feel like she shouldn’t be writing.
Found any great articles or books that help solve the issues you identified in step three? Provide the links or the titles of those resources here.
#5 On-Page Notes
Include on-page notes as well. If a particular passage made you laugh, note it in the margin. If a sentence was awkward, underline that sentence and make a note in the margin. Powerful turn-of-phrase? Yep, say so in the margin.
Free Worksheet // Critique Template
Grab your free copy of this writing critique worksheet template. Choose the version that’s right for you. Then click to customize it for your next critique. Easy peasy.
Questions about writing critiques or the worksheets? Send them here.