Writing Critique–Monday Meanderings

Two People - Business Meeting

Since the first writing conference I attended (2004, I believe) I have been involved in writing critique groups. It was for that conference that my work was first accepted for work-shopping and I was sure that I had arrived. A well-known published author led the two-day process and there were about nine of us who submitted work to the other members of the group for critique. It became a turning point for me as a writer. I came to accept the fact that my novel was not quite as brilliant as I perceived it to be.

A few of us from that group went on to meet on a regular basis. Since then I’ve participated in several other critique groups. Here are a few things I’ve learned that have been helpful.

  • Don’t submit your work before you’ve completed your first draft. It is important for you to have a clear idea of your story line before opening it to critique.
  • As a group, decide on guidelines at your first meeting. How many members will you have? Will you submit your writing before the meeting? Will you read work aloud at the meeting? How many manuscripts/how many pages will you discuss? (Don’t forget a “group” may be as few as two people).
  • Be sure to balance your positive and negative feedback. Your goal is to build up one another, not destroy. One time a fellow-writer told me, “I would never read this novel.” That discouraged me to the point that I gave up working on it for a few months until I figured out that she was trying to tell me that the prologue was a turn-off.
  • Give specific advice. For example, instead of saying “This moves too slowly,” try something like “Consider using active verbs instead of passive voice,” or “That long sentence drags down the narrative–maybe if you wrote that paragraph in a few clipped phrases it would be more suspenseful.” Avoid general statements such as, “That just doesn’t work.”
  • Learn to listen to suggestions without trying to defend yourself. One group that I have been a part of had set the rule of “silence” until all critiques had been given. But take good notes while you listen. I bring a copy of my manuscript and jot down helpful advice in the columns.
  • Understand the differences between genres. If you write literary fiction, for example, don’t expect the same complexity of characters from your friend who writes sci-fi. And visa versa.
  • Don’t revise immediately after your meeting, except for grammatical and spelling errors. Definitely do not make significant plot changes. Remember, your story is YOUR story.
  • At the same time, be open to suggestion. My writing has been much enriched by plot twists or questions posed by members of my critique groups. Ask clarifying questions if needed.
  • There is a time for critique and a time to write. Understand what works best for you and realize that your needs change at different points in the writing process.
  • And finally, be grateful to your fellow writers. It was through this process that I have met some of my dearest friends. Don’t forget to celebrate one another’s successes!

While these insights apply to fiction writing, it’s possible to extrapolate and apply them to any genre, including poetry and non-fiction.

Happy writing. Enjoy the process.

7 thoughts on “Writing Critique–Monday Meanderings

  1. dragonkatet says:

    These are all really good points. I have heard that when doing a critique of any kind, if you have anything negative to say, it’s good to “sandwich” it between two positives. It’s supposed to make it easier for both the reviewer *and* the person on the receiving end. Brian is right about ego, though. I think that is one of the hardest things for most writers to do…but necessary, if one wants to grow and improve.

    I think it’s also important to remember that everyone wants to be a critic…but not everyone is cut out or qualified to be one. I always consider the source. For example, since I already know you are a published author and have come to know your work and your expertise in the creative writing/fiction/poetry arena, I consider you a valid voice when it comes to critique, Victoria. Thanks for posting this list. I imagine it will help a lot of people, me included! 🙂


  2. Jamie Dedes says:

    Posted on Facebook. Nice job.


  3. Mary says:

    Lots of good ideas here, Victoria. I do agree with the idea of specific advice. Also agree that everyone has to write their own novel or write their own poem. If a poet (for example) embraces EVERY suggestion given, it will end up being another person’s poem. I always believe in offering suggestions in keeping with the other person’s style. And I do agree about celebrating others’ successes….and not just bemoaning the fact that it wasn’t you.


  4. Victoria, over the last year, after 40 years of focusing on poetry, I started a novel that has stirred inside for as long as I can remember. I was invited into a writer’s group, one that had been continuous in the village of Chapala on Lake Chapala, Mexico, and it has been the best thing I could done in relation to my writing. Your points are well taken and appreciated.


  5. brian miller says:

    some really nice guidelines…one thing that writers have to realize is they have to check the ego at the door…its there to help you…and its hard to kill your babies sometimes but….


  6. Some wonderful, clear, and helpful advice here, Victoria! Thank you for sharing!


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