I’ve talked to writers scarred by the critique process. I’ve heard horror stories. We all have. I’ve also heard from writers frustrated by feedback that is kind but not helpful. “This is wonderful. I like it.” The big issue is no one takes a class in how to critique. Honestly, I went through an MFA program and while I learned a lot about what NOT to do in terms of critiquing it was through watching not through classes teaching us. It’s a shame because while you cannot teach someone talent, you can teach them to critique. It’s not a difficult skill, but it is fraught with delicate lines. We need to know when and under what circumstances we can cross those lines.
1. Trust – never work with writers you don’t trust. If you wouldn’t be caught on a sinking boat or in a burning building with these people, do not trust them with your life’s work. Period.
2. Honesty – brace yourself because this is one of those double-edged swords. Criticism does the writer NO good if it is not honest. Never tell the writer something that is NOT true. If the pacing in a scene is off, the writer has to know that. If you have an idea of why, share that. If you don’t, brainstorm it as a group. If you know of possible solutions, offer them with the understanding that the author does not have to use them and your idea may spark a better fix in their head.
3. Compassion – we are writers and as such sensitive. Never offer that honesty without an equal dose of compassion. Regardless of how many rules that writer broke, no matter how many issues of syntax got on your last nerve, you must remember this is their baby. Be kind.
4. Positivity – always start with what works in the manuscript. I don’t care if you have to resort to complimenting their formatting or the paper they used. Just never leap in with what isn’t working without first saying what is.
5. Consistency – as a group (or critique partners) pick a style guide to follow so that your edits are consistent across the group. It will save you all a lot of headaches and unnecessary markups. For people writing series, keep those bibles updated so the group is aware of odd spellings and unusual verbiage.
Of course, deliver all critiques with a dose of hummus and lattes, and did I mention chocolate?
What’s important to you in a critique partner?