Avoiding the Critique from Hell

There’s no doubt about it — critiques cause no end of anxiety and it doesn’t seem to matter if I’m giving or receiving.  Actually, that’s not quite true.  I worry much less when I get a critique. But when I deliver a critique, especially to a new writer, I worry.  Did I help?  Did I scare the snot out of them?  Was I clear?  Or did I sound something like this —

Fortunately, I’ve never received a critique that was quite that . . . how would you actually describe that critique?  Mental?

To avoid delivering that kind of critique, keep the following 5 tips in mind:

  • You will not connect with every piece of writing.  I have this problem with very young picture books.  And chick lit.  And romance.  If I end up having to critique one of these things, I’ll warn the writer ahead of time.
  • Lead with something positive and the person you are critiquing will be more likely to hear the less-positive.
  • “I don’t get this at all” isn’t a critique.  Helpful comments include:  “this part seemed awkward,” “I was pulled out of the story right here,”  or “this paragraph confused me and I need you to explain what is going on.”
  • Remember to critique the work and not the author.  You may end up critiquing work for someone whose lifestyle or religion differs from your own.  Suck it up and critique the writing not the person’s belief system.  Does this mean you can’t ask for clarification?  Not at all.  But if you feel the need to work the word “Hell” or “Damned” into your critique, think again.
  • And, perhaps most important of all.  Keep it as short and simple as possible.  Do not monologue.  That’s for comic book villains (see below).