Get a Good Critique: 8 Tips for Prepared, Receptive Writers

This is Part Three, the final installation in a three-part series on best practices to run or participate in a writing critique session or group.

The article accompanies Writing Critiques Gone Wrong: What Just Happened?and Give a Good Critique: 10 Tips for Helpful Writing Feedback. Both articles with the word “tips” in their titles were adapted from the Nov. 2012 print edition of CBW–LA Scribblers’ Scoop.

“What’s that you say? I’m listening!” Hearing others’ feedback isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary. These tips will help you feel prepared to share your written work, and open to the feedback you’ll receive. (Thanks to morgueFile for free public images to help tell our story.)

In the first two installments of this series, we talked about the Children’s Book Writers of Los Angeles TACTful approach to writing critique groups and sessions, and we gave the critic some tips to offer useful, specific feedback. But what about the writer? What is the writer’s responsibility?

During a critique, the number one responsibility of the writer is to listen. No protests. No judgements. No excuses. Open your ears and listen.

That’s it. You can interact: you can ask questions and request clarification at the end and you can provide insight as requested. But ultimately, the person critiquing your work is there to help you be the best storyteller you can be. In order for that to work, you need to be quiet, open your ears and let them do their job.

Does that mean you have to agree with everything they say? No, of course not! You’re sharing your work. You don’t have to change a single thing. But then why would you take it to a critique?

Pick and choose the comments that resonate with you. Pay close attention to the concerns related to those areas that were already nagging you, and see if you can’t spur a small, curious discussion hoping for a break-through. But don’t ignore the comments that surprise you. That sort feedback may simply be related to the critic’s preference or style, unrelated to your , or it might be the

Will the critique hurt a little? Probably.

Writing is a soul-baring exercise. It’s almost maniacal to present something so personal, something created entirely within ourselves, to another human. Your ego might hate you for a hot minute. But do it anyway. Get out there, and get feedback.

Because despite perfectionist tendencies or a penchant for run-on sentences or a weakness in plot, there is a story that every writer is driven to tell. And the only way to release it is to be brave, put yourself out there, and listen to what the universe whispers back. With the right critique partners, it will all be worth it.

Here are some ways that you can optimize your time as the writer being evaluated during a critique session.

8 Tips to Get The Most out of a Critique

These tips were developed with writing in mind, but they can be adapted and used to provide critical feedback across all creative fields.

Authors listen intently to feedback during a first page critique session and workshop hosted by Catherine Linka and Mollie Traver in Oct. 2014. Photo by CBW–LA.
  • Make your work easy to read. Don’t fiddle around with fancy fonts or awkward spacing. It takes away from the pure essence of the story at this point. Follow the standard format for manuscript submission. Use Courier or Times New Roman font, 12 point, double-spaced, with a 1-inch margin on all sides. A header or footer should identify every page of your manuscript information clearly, with Name/Title on the left and the page number on the right.
  • Make sure your manuscript is as error‐free as possible. Don’t give the grammar police anything to hem and haw about. You’re not there for a copy edit, but bad grammar, punctuation and typos might distract the critics from giving more helpful feedback about your story elements such as your plot, characters, settings, etc.
  • When there are multiple writers seeking feedback curing a critique session, listen to everyone’s critique — not just your own. A discussion about another story might spark a brainstorm and a solution for a troubling spot in your own. Or, you might find that there are certain people whose feedback you particularly admire and respect, whom you’d like to pay extra close attention to when it’s your turn to share. Bring a pad and paper to make note of spontaneous creative breakthroughs and frequent errors you discover in your own work through the lens of another story.
  • When it’s your turn, listen to the criticism silently and with an open mind. Avoid interrupting the critics as they give feedback, and try not to be defensive when it comes to your writing. Instead, approach the critiques with an impartial and analytical eye, and a thankful heart.
  • Take notes. It shows that you are receptive to criticism … and it keeps you busy so that you will be less likely to defend your work. As an added bonus, recording the comments helps you remember and focus on which story elements you need to address when you sit down to edit and revise your manuscript later.
  • Keep your emotions in check. Be receptive to all feedback — positive and negative. Some comments and suggestions might be hard to take, and you may want to speak up and explain your intentions. Avoid doing so. Remember that you are at a critique because you are serious about your intent to improve your writing, not because you want approval for your work.
  • After every critic has spoken, you may ask questions to clarify and understand comments better, or to ask for help or feedback about a specific element that’s been concerning you. For example: How was the pacing of my story — did it ever feel too fast or too slow? Was the dialogue realistic? Were you able to relate to my characters?
  • Recognize that not all comments and suggestions you receive will be valid, helpful or appropriate for you or your story. You may ignore comments (silently) that you feel are unjustified. However, your free pass comes with a caveat. If two or more people agree on a particular critical front, it might be wise to try and address it. Study your notes well when you get home. Sleep on it. Meditate or pray or exercise over it, whatever your creative process entails. Because in the end, you are the only one who can decide on whether your story should change, and how you’re going to do it.

Want to Know More?

Visit us online at cbw-la.org, like our Facebook page, chat with us on Twitter.

Even better? If you’re in the L.A. area, join us for a workshop or critique session! In this digital age, we still believe there’s nothing quite like connecting with a real person in real life. Heck, we’ll even let you tease us and call us old-fashioned.

About the Authors

Alana Garrigues is the Publications Director for CBW–LA and a freelance writer and editor.

Nutschell Anne Windsor, the original author of the Nov. 2012 Scribblers’ Scoop article containing tips for critics and writers that inspired and served as a basis of content for this three-part series on critique groups, is the Founder and President of CBW–LA, and a Middle Grade and YA writer.