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General Critique Guidelines


At the Writers’ Loft, we take community very seriously. Please try to give feedback in a way that can be heard and only for the motive of strengthening a peer’s manuscript. It’s a great rule of thumb to start with the positives, and move into those areas that confused you or pulled you out of the manuscript. Many writers take offense if you tell them how they should change the manuscript. Instead, highlight what you think are missed opportunities in the ms or things to be careful of.


For instance, instead of telling someone how to change the sentence It was a cold day, you could point out the sentence and say, “be careful of telling, not showing.” Or, “this might be a missed opportunity to see the day through the main character’s eyes.”


Tips for giving criticism


  • Arrive with the appropriate mindset: Please arrive with the attitude that we are all here to help others (and ourselves) get to the next level in our writing. If you don’t have that attitude, then this group is not for you.

  • Use the sandwich method: start with something you liked, then provide constructive criticism, then end with something you liked.

  • Use “I” statements: It’s better to say “I found this part boring” not “This part was boring.”

  • Be specific: If you “found this part boring,” explain why you found it boring. Don’t just say you found it boring.

  • Offer suggestions: If you “found this part boring,” offer ways to make it not boring.

  • Use polite phrasing: If you “found this part boring,” it might be nicer to say “I found this part a bit slow,” or “this part pulled me out of the story…” and then explain why.

  • Never criticize the writer: Discuss the manuscript, not the writer. If you “found this part boring,” never tell the writer “you write boring manuscripts.”

  • Don’t rewrite in your own voice: Suggesting word choices or rephrasing to clarify unclear sections can often be helpful, but do not rewrite paragraphs, entire stanzas, or pages in your own voice.

  • Don’t take ownership: The writer makes the ultimate decision on whether to accept or reject any criticism. Even if you feel certain a change needs to be made, do not push the writer.

  • Be nice & show respect: Even if you hate a piece of writing, the writer has invested time and effort on the manuscript. Phrase your criticism in a way that wouldn’t offend you if it were your writing.


Tips for receiving criticism


  • No draft is perfect: While you may feel strongly about a first, second, or tenth draft, it likely needs improvement. While the number of changes you make hopefully shrinks with each revision, don’t stress if the editor returns with lots of red markings.

  • Don’t take it personally: Criticism of your work is not criticism of you as a person. While you have put a lot of effort into the manuscript, try to maintain a separation between you and your writing.

  • Refrain from getting defensive in the moment: You don’t need to defend your writing. Nobody is attacking it. Let it go if you don’t agree with someone’s critique.

  • Everyone has an opinion: You might think it’s perfect, others think it’s too long, and still others think it’s too short. Learn to classify voices offering criticism so you can decide which trumps which.

  • Don’t abuse your power: While the ultimate decision of what goes into your manuscript is yours, don’t dismiss criticism that is harsh or might be difficult to implement. Sometimes following the hardest advice can be most worth it.

  • Listen: Don’t just hear, listen – especially if it’s something you don’t like. Often the most useful suggestions are the ones you find distasteful at first. Try others’ ideas out. Be open-minded and challenge your assumptions. The more you listen, rewrite, and see improvements in your work, the easier it will become to accept criticism in the future.

  • Wait: After hearing criticism, let it sit for a day or a week before going back and revising or thinking about changes. You should only make changes in your manuscript based on what rings truest to you.

  • Remember that ultimately, ownership is yours: As Neil Gaiman said: “When people tell you there’s something wrong with a story, they’re almost always right. When they tell what it is that’s wrong and how it can be fixed, they’re almost always wrong.” Listen to what people think doesn’t work for your story, and then figure out how you want to fix it.


References and Additional Resources


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