Critiquing other people’s work…

Hey guys,

I feel like this is an important topic that is rarely talked about or discussed. It is an important part of writing, editing and developing your novel and trusting your work to another person is a very difficult process.

I have over the years experienced many, many moments of critique studying at university, and personally, through friends or family and I have found most people are unaware about how to do it effectively.

Firstly, when I studied creative writing and taught creative writing at QUT, in Brisbane, I was shown the best way to critique a person’s work. I also saw and experienced the really bad ways people provided feedback. Here are a few tips for providing feedback to your writer friends or colleagues.

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1. Make sure you start with something positive about their work.

What did you love about the book? Did you love the sense of adventure, the language, characters, the setting and mood? Make sure you let the person know all of the things you really admired about the work. If you do not do this, your friend or colleague will be completely demoralised if you start with all of the things you think need changing or fixing.

2. Don’t just say one positive thing and move into the negative things.

Make sure you detail all of the good things you liked. Remember this person has probably spent years of their life writing this book, so be sensitive to them. They need to hear what is working as much as what is not working.

3. Then you can start with some critiquing of elements that could be changed

If you have praised the positive elements of the novel or work, then the writer can receive your criticism better. They have fuel in their tank for the grueling task of examining sentences, plot, characterisation, setting, etc. I find the way you provide feedback is important, choose your words carefully, don’t just say “I hate this…” or “This is weak…” or “this is cliched…” The words you use to critique the piece should be humble and should show respect to them as the author, saying things like; “this is probably just my point of view, but I felt this could have had a quicker pace or more detail here…etc” or “these are just my ideas, you don’t have to take these on…” Statements like these show respect to the author who has no doubt put a lot of blood, sweat and tears as well as emotion into their novel so just remember this. It is easy to be critical when you haven’t created something from nothing.

4. When you finish your critique – finish with an overall positive comment about how the book is very good and these are only minor changes. This is important, if you don’t do or say this then the author can become demoralised. I have spoken to many authors who have felt like this after a critique.

Of course, all of us writers need to hear criticism and valuable feedback is important to make your novel better, but often I find it is the way people deliver their feedback that is not helpful. As authors I feel we are more easily able to receive the feedback when it is delivered in this sandwich method.

Sandwich Method: 

Piece of bread = positive feedback + Filling = sensitive critique + Piece of Bread = positive reinforcement.

Please be sensitive to us writers. For any writers reading this blog, choose your critique partners carefully as it makes a huge difference to your morale about your  work!  Choose someone who will encourage you as well as provide comments on areas that need work. It may take a while to find these people, but it is definitely worth it!

Go well, happy writing! Thanks for reading. 🙂

2 thoughts on “Critiquing other people’s work…

Add yours

  1. Yes. I totally agree, especially with a memoir that is emotionally difficult to write in the first place. I do recognise the need for honest feedback, but it’s a painful process. Thanks for sharing these ideas Suzanne.

  2. Hi Rhyl, yes, definitely. A memoir can be confronting and even painful to write, remembering certain people and events etc, so this sensitivity is very necessary. 🙂 Go well with it Rhyl. 🙂

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