A good critique is worth more than a pat on the back

Lots of writers are in groups, but not all of these are critique groups. I know one where the members read their work to each other, say lots of nice things and then eat supper. This is a support group, not a critique group. But it’s possible to be in a critique group that damages your writing, and your self-confidence. So what should a good critique from your fellow members offer?

  1. Constructive criticism, phrased in a way that is not harsh, condescending or a personal attack. The group is commenting on the writing and what works or doesn’t work, not on the writer’s choice of subject, or reasons for writing about it.
  2. Praise for what is working well. I know a teacher who insists on two positive comments for every negative one, which is nice to aim for but not always possible. However, your group should still be able to point out the good bits!
  3. Suggestions for how problems might be fixed. This doesn’t mean “I would write it this way”. But a range of suggestions will help you and send you home with new ideas and, hopefully, the urge to get stuck in and rewrite. And the more group members think about what might work better, the more it feeds into their own writing and makes them better writers. That’s what makes a good critique group work – when everyone learns from critiquing others, a well as from comments on their own writing.
  4. A willingness to critique anything. I’ve know writers who refused to give feedback on fantasy or science fiction, for example, saying they don’t read it. But any story can be critiqued in terms of character, dialogue, setting etc. This excuse is a cop-out.

My next few posts will be on ways to critique different kinds of writing – key things to look out in various forms and genres.

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  1. Thanks for this, Sherryl – it’s also a good list for when you need to critique the work of other writers. 🙂 I know I have to be careful of not imposing what I would do on a ms. Very tricky!

    • That’s the trick, isn’t it? Restraining yourself from “I’d do it like this”. But if you can step back, and pretend you’re an editor, it becomes easier. I think critiquing also helps you eventually to work with editors more effectively.

  2. Well said Sherryl. I believe strongly in workshopping. My first experience of it was with the Women’s Writers Network in Sydney and I will be forever grateful for the assistance that group gave me when I was starting out,


    • A great group can be a huge boost to a writer. I know my group has sustained me tremendously but also been tough when I needed it!

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