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How to Critique Other Writers Well (Hint: Don’t Be a Jerk)

How to Critique Other Writers Well

It’s important to socialize with people in your field – and one of the main ways to do this is to critique other writers. Like dogs or children, you need to be around and engage with your kind in order to be well-adjusted.

And learn not to bite.

But really, it’s always nice to be able vent about work and clients to someone who can truly understand. It’s a great way to network, and critiquing each other’s work (in the right way) can be a great way to improve your own skills.

The old adage that you learn more through teaching is totally true.

Believe me, I know. I critique other writers all the time.

Even when they don’t want to hear it.

That’s my favorite time to do it, in fact.

How to Critique Other Writers Badly (in One Step or Less)

I took a writing class once, and a guy in class read my three-page essay with the furrowed-brow concentration of a Cold War spy, before looking up at me and saying, “Don’t quit your day job. I don’t think writing is for you.”

The problem was, writing was my day job!

And also, he was an asshat.

I’m just trying to state all the facts here.

Because I’m a good writer.

What I’m saying is, don’t be that guy. That’s not a good way to critique other writers at all. Sure, you’ll think they suck sometimes, but there are much better ways of saying it.

In fact, there are some steadfast rules to follow when critiquing someone’s work.

Keep Your Feedback Tied to the Writing, Not the Writer

First of all, always keep your feedback about the work itself and never about the author.  Once you direct your comments towards the person, it can feel like an attack.

When you’re really lost after reading a fellow writer’s work, and you don’t even know where to begin to help them, start by asking them what they were going for in their piece.

I often say, “What was the message you were hoping to get across?”

Or:

“What did you hope people would take from this?”

Then let them explain it.  If it’s not the message you took from their work, then that’s a great place to start. In order to critique other writers well, you have to understand what they meant when they wrote it.

Learn from Middle School: Sandwich Your Comments

Sandwiching your comments is always a foolproof plan. If you have something to tell them that you feel like they might take negatively, then sandwich it between two compliments.

Such as, “I really love how your opening line got me excited about the product, but I feel like it got a little overly wordy in the middle and I think you could cut it back. But you wrapped the concluding sentence up really well and I wouldn’t change a thing there.”

Focus on Your Own Word Choice

Most importantly, really focus on your word choice.

“I” statements for the win, my friend.

Make sure you are using phrases like, “I didn’t understand” or “I was confused” instead of “This was confusing” or “You did this wrong.”

Always say, “This doesn’t work that well for me” When pointing out a certain aspect instead of “This sucks” or “Don’t quit your day job.”

… but I’m not bitter.

Receive Criticism Well, and You’ll Go Further

Part of being a good critique partner is also about how you receive the other person’s critique.

Especially it they haven’t read this fantastically written blog post about how to give good critique.

Remember that they’re trying to help.

Feedback is good.

Don’t take it as a personal attack. Even if it feels exactly like a personal attack and they have a mean look on their face that really, truly indicates the attacking-ness of their feelings. Even then.

The more you practice this approach, the thicker your skin will become.

In the beginning of my career, I use to tell people I could only handle hearing the parts of my essays that they liked. Now I rarely want to hear what’s working because it doesn’t help me as much as their constructive criticism.

I have grown some serious critique calluses.

No lotion needed for these babies … I earned them!

Want to learn more about writing work that others will find less to criticize? Cool, cuz that’s exactly what we do here. Head to the Free Resource Library link below and get all the goodies.

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