How Not to Do A Critique

By Linore Rose Burkard, @LinoreRBurkard

Seasoned writers know that having one’s work critiqued by fellow writers (or even savvy readers) can determine the difference between a finished piece that is merely “good” or one that sings. Critique partners can strengthen a manuscript, clean up errors, and make invaluable suggestions that the writer might not think of.
Done rightly, critiquing is a valuable part of the writing and publishing process.
But what if it isn’t done rightly? (What does that even mean?) 


More Harm than Good
Though we mean well, sometimes criticism can do more harm than good. Bashing a writer’s feelings, attacking the work rather than speaking into it, or offering comments that sting are ways to do more harm than good. Other harmful efforts are trying to squelch a writer’s unique voice or style.

The key to doing more good than harm is in respecting the writer, and by using the proper tone and approach. It’s like giving medicine with honey as opposed to vinegar.

But isn’t criticism always hurtful? Hard to swallow?
Not if given correctly. I’ll say more about that in a moment.

What NOT to Do

For my book that released just last week (DEFIANCE) I had the perfect mix of critique partners. I loved getting their feedback, even when it meant I had more work to do. After all, I wanted my book to be the best it could be!
But an early reader offered feedback that was enormously difficult to accept. Since it is unusual for me to have difficulty receiving feedback, I reflected upon why this was. Conclusion: The way the criticism was offered nearly guaranteed that I couldn’t receive it well. Luckily, the experience gave me concrete examples of what NOT to do when offering criticism.

  1. Don’t be disrespectful.It is disrespectful to a writer if you come across like you’ve got the stone tablets on what he or she must do with their piece. If you want to cry, “Thou Shalt Not!” to a writer, be very sure you are addressing objective mechanics, not matters of style or taste.

    Likewise, never forget the writer always has the last word about their work. Even if you think you are one-hundred-percent right about a suggestion you’ve made, the writer alone has the final say about whether to take it or not—especially in matters of style. [Publishers may have the final say for contracted work.] 

  2. Don’t Ignore the Good Stuff.
    I call this spewing vinegar instead of honey. If you find areas that need help in a manuscript, you’ve located a wound. Don’t pour vinegar into it. Instead, before offering criticism, always find something to praise about a piece. Ask yourself, “What is good about it?” A poor critique will completely ignore the strong points of a writer but scream treason! about a perceived weakness. (The weakness here is more in the critic, even if they have a valid issue.)

    To give a helpful critique, begin with praise. Give examples of how something can be strengthened in a piece. To give a wonderful critique, include suggestions for fixing the problem, as well as encouragement. Be a cheerleader. 

A Mere Know-it-All

Without praise and encouragement, a zealous critique partner comes across merely as a know-it-all. Know- it-alls may be right, but they are also vastly annoying. No one wants to work with them.

Take Away
: After you praise the writer on his or her strong points—giving him honey—only then can you tread into the waters of criticism in a way that the writer can accept.

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How Not to Do A Critique by Linore Rose Burkard (Click to Tweet)

Linore Rose Burkard wrote a trilogy of delightful regency romances for the Christian market before there were any regencies for the Christian market. Published with Harvest House, her books opened up the genre for the CBA. She  writes YA Suspense/Apocalyptic fiction as L.R. Burkard. Linore grew up in NYC and graduated magna cum laude from CUNY with a bachelors in English Literature. A writing workshop instructor, Linore is married with five children, home-schools her youngest daughter, tolerates one dog and three cats, and drinks far too much coffee.   

New fiction! Available Now! 

DEFIANCE: Because sometimes resistance just isn’t enough.

In this third installment of the PULSE EFFEX SERIES, foreign soldiers and fellow Americans gone rogue are just the beginning of what Andrea, Lexie and Sarah must face. Beneath the threat of nuclear strikes and guerrilla armies, the girls long for a free country in which to live–and love. Survival means resistance must give way to defiance. But can ordinary teens and their families withstand powerful forces and keep hope alive?