When You Critique, Read like a Writer

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Recently I got a critique back from one of my writing buddies. She apologized for how long it had taken her to get back to me but the reality is this – preparing a really good critique takes time. This is because to critique you have to read like a writer.

How does a writer read? It depends.

When a writer is reading for fun, we very often fall into the story. We read for enjoyment exploring the story world, getting to know the character, and finding out what happens next. This is not very helpful when we are critiquing.

When we critique, we need to really and truly read like a writer. When we do this, we are reading to see what works well and what could work better. Is there enough detail to make the setting come to life? Or are we trapped in an info dump? Are we eager to follow the character deeper into the story world to see what happens next? Can we predict what is going to appear around the next corner? Or are we surprised?

Depending on what type of manuscript you are critiquing, it can be very well done and you can still see certain things coming. Why? Because you are a writer! You understand the mechanics of story. You know that if the writer mentions a certain item, it may well come into play later in the story. You are also an adult and if you are reading a piece written for children you, in all probability, have more life experience than a young reader. You know that X, Y and Z are all likely to be really bad ideas no matter how tempting they appear in the heat of the moment.

To assure that, when I critique, I read like a writer, I prefer to read through a manuscript twice. The first time, I comment on almost nothing. I may mark a point that pulls me out of the story. Or I might draw a heart next to a paragraph that I love. But the first time through, I’m simply enjoying the journey.

It is on the second read that I dive into the mechanics of the manuscript. I already know what is happening and who it is happening to. Now I am free to comment, question and mark things up.

Why not give this technique a try the next time you critique a manuscript?