Saturday, April 30, 2011

'Tis Better to Give than to Receive... Critiques

I've been blogging little lately because I've been critiquing.

As a member of a couple of different writers groups, I get the opportunity to review other people's manuscripts (and have mine reviewed) on a regular basis. 

There's a lot to be learned from critiquing other people's work, but the one thing that I'm always reminded of is that it makes my writing better.

How?  By opening my eyes to flaws in my own writing.

I couldn't count the number of times I've written comments on someone else's manuscript with wince - because as soon as I'm finished that critique I know I need to go hunt through my own for the very same flaws.

The truth is, the world I write is painted in full color for me - I know it's sights, sounds, feelings and rules.  I understand what's important and who is who.  But that's because I'll always see so much more than anyone else. 

With all that knowledge, sometimes I'm blind to what my writing actually portrays.  And sometimes I focus too much on extraneous detail because it caught my attention - whether it's important to the reader or not.

Reading someone else's book helps me see where my writing is failing the reader. It helps me identify what kinds of words and phrases are redundant.  I see in context what kind of description and world-building is crucial.  I'm reminded what it's like to read about characters for the first time - how important those physical tags are, reminding the reader what each character looks like.

Those are only a few.

If you get the chance to critique a writer who's better than you, the gains are even greater.  You learn good writing by osmosis - and you also learn that even the professionals don't sit down and bang out a publishable draft the first time. 

(At which point you have my permission to pump the air, shout 'Huzzah!' and do the "I'm Not a Loser" Dance).

So if you feel like it would take too much time to read someone else's work, time that cuts into your own writing, I'd encourage you to think again.  In this instance, it truly is better to give than to receive. 

And the good news is, when you see something in someone else's work that makes you squirm and blush, you've got the chance to go back and fix it with no one else the wiser.

No harm, no foul, right?

Your Turn: Have you ever critiqued a full novel?  What did you learn from the process?


  1. Really good post. I was just blogging about being critiqued - but this is so true too. I've just embarked on the whole world of critique partners and it's been really interesting critiquing other folks. One person wrote in almost the opposite way to me, which was in itself really enlightening. Helped me to understand my own style, strengths and (major) weaknesses.

  2. I haven't critiqued a novel but when I watch movies now I'm very aware of pacing.

  3. So, SO true. I critiqued my CP's novel and read through it over a dozen times in the end. My own writing has improved immeasurably as a result--all the things I registered reading hers have becomes things I understand. I've never had a more valuable learning experience, including having my own work critiqued.

  4. I did critique someone else's work and found this to be true. We didn't make a lot of the same kinds of mistakes, but a few. I think that taking a breather from your own work and taking it up again a few months later can have a similar effect. That helped me more and looking back on some of my writing is a little painful. :)

  5. I've done the exact same thing . . . and then you feel awkward being critical about something you've done yourself.


  6. Excellent points, Aimee. In an ideal situation, a writer should have CPs of varying skill--some better than them, that they can learn from; some at the same level as they are, to be partners with; and some who are where they were a year or two ago, to be an encouragement to.

  7. Couldn't agree more. I've only critiqued one full manuscript but it was a really educational process. The MS was so different to mine (in genre, in style, in pacing, in every aspect, really), but I was still able to learn a lot about what works and what doesn't by analysing it so critically.