Critique: Take the Time to Do It Right

Strange.  This was supposed to post last Thursday.  Because I was on the road, I didn’t realize it never “went live.”  My apologies.  Let’s see if it posts this time around!


This weekend, I’m going to be at a writing retreat.  I’m not sure how other retreats are organized by this one features time with an editor – both one-on-one with feedback and your work as well as workshops on various topics.  It also includes critique groups, time to get and give feedback.

If you’ve never critiqued another writer’s work, it can feel intimidating.  You want to be honest and helpful but not every work speaks to you.  In fact, you may fail to connect with a piece and not be sure if it just isn’t something that appeals to you or is problem that the writing is somehow off.

I solve this by taking three steps to critique a manuscript.  Obviously, I can only do this when I get them ahead of time but this is my preferred process.

  1. I read the manuscript through without making a mark.  Then I set it aside for a day or more if possible.
  2. Then I read it again.  This time I let myself mark it up.  I check or underline any place I feel moved to make a comment. Sometimes it will be that I loved the humor.  Other times I will point out that a particular word choice pulled me out of the story.
  3. Then I type up my comments.  The last couple of events I’ve been to have asked us to use the SCBWI Gold Form.  We aren’t required to do it but it is encouraged.  I like the form because it doesn’t let me short cut the process.  It asks about strengths, characterization, plot, voice and more.

When you make extensive comments on a manuscript, start with something positive.  It makes the rest easier to take in.

Yes, I’m telling you to be positive.  Period.  Not just if you liked it.  Not all manuscripts appeal to every reader but you don’t want an editor to tell you your work is fabricated so you should play nice as well.

This isn’t always easy.  I am not particularly articulate at critiquing preschool picture books.  So I admit that up front.  Next, I comment on what I liked – the word play, the character, the situation . . . whatever.

Then I comment on what needs work.  It might be the voice.  Perhaps it doesn’t have that read aloud quality that a picture book needs.

And I almost always recommend books.  This is an author who does this well . . . Your piece reminded me of . . .

Take time to do it right when you critique someone’s work.  And then?  Use that same level of analysis on your own work.  You may be surprised at what you find.