02 March 2013


A friend of mine today in writer's group made a comment that got me thinking (which is never a good thing, ask anyone), along the lines of the fact that I'm always critical of items that end up in front of my editing pen. Now, this friend happens to be a full-time writer, multi-published, with publishers that have distributed her books far and wide, and we've been friends a long time. She has also been a big fan of my books (and vice versa) ever since she first saw them, so I'm not so sure about her taste, but hey...

The author in question...I do love her books, so go give them a read.

The comment struck me today for some reason. I've given comments and critiques to folks for many years, and I'm no different (in my mind, at least) with her than I am with any author. I have this built-in need to do my best for anyone, because that's how I'm wired. Writers always see things in another author's work that the other author may never see (and I'm not immune to that issue). That leads me to always give every thought that comes into my head when commenting or critiquing to the fullest extent, when another author asks (and when I have time to do it). The way I figure, I'm trying to give another author a tool to use for the next time they're editing their own work, to help them improve.

I've noticed, too, that I tend to get odd reactions from my direct employees (where my job puts me in a place where I need to comment and critique on their work), in that they almost seem fearful of my critiques. My assumed duty is the same thing there. I'm not trying to be mean or supercritical, just to help them improve so that they'll have the tools they need for the next time they're doing the same work.

My guess? This is why the comment hit me today...that maybe my mindset has been off-kilter this entire time. Perhaps all of those who've received writing critiques view me in the same vein as my employees (presumably) do...that I'm mean and supercritical. Perhaps my perception of what the feedback should be is not the same as those who are looking for my feedback.

So, then the question is...is being supercritical an issue?

I'd love to hear your thoughts...because at the moment, I have a chapter from Nancy that needs a critique.


  1. Any pro who has had multiple critiques can handle whatever you have to say. You've critiqued me before. I still like you. Anyone who values your opinion wants an honest one from you. If she agrees with your assessment, she'll take your suggestions. If she doesn't, she won't.

  2. Well, I think a critique CAN be super critical, but I'm probably like you when it comes to critiques (though I've never had one of yours before, so I can't knowingly say). But I feel if someone asked me for a critique, they are asking me for what I see in their work, what I see that can be improved, and -- basically -- what is my opinion. If I hold back, I'm not granting them their request to the best of my ability. I feel I'm shortchanging them.

    Granted, you can say way too much to the point that there's more critique than story (I've gotten -- and given -- some of those before; I find them useful though!), but it's a matter of knowing how much the writer can take as well.

    Usually if the writer gives you a critique, you can guage for the density of their "skin" by how they're asking you to critique. As a general rule though, if I mention one thing a couple times in the beginning of the critique, I don't continue to point it out ten pages down the story. No need to rehash what you had already told them three times. I's not like they were able to change it from the time you read page one to when you got to page ten.

    But if anyone gives me specific directions about what NOT to point out because they already know it's lacking, then I honor that. If they don't want grammar or spelling to be commented on, I won't. Etc., etc..

    But, yes, it is so often easier to see what can be improved in another's work than our own...which is why I think critiques are super beneficial!

  3. JC, I'm with you when you said If she agrees with your assessment, she'll take your suggestions. If she doesn't, she won't. I've always been the same way when others give me critiques. Sometimes, it makes sense and other times it doesn't.

    Shawn, indeed...if someone just wants a critique of certain aspects of a story, that's all I give. It's the more generic "can you take a look at this and tell me what you think?" requests that I'm wondering about here. And like you, if I hold back comments on what I see/think, I feel like I shortchange them. I'd feel shortchanged if someone I asked for a critique did that to me. I don't get better unless issues are pointed out.

    Unfortunately, for authors who aren't as experienced, it does end up being more critique than story sometimes...but as I figure (and maybe JC can confirm), it's best to see that level of critique at the beta reader level versus sending it out to editors as-is.

    If I see a consistent error (or rather, batches of consistent errors) throughout a piece, I usually stop critiquing after a chapter or two and let the author review the rest of their manuscript with those points in mind. That, too, can be a useful tool to the level of "skin" they have...because if they don't have any, they usually don't send it back again. :-\

  4. I don't thnk you are mean or supercritical. I really appreciated the thorough critiques you have given me. :)

  5. That's always good to hear. :-)

  6. I don't think it's an issue. All of us are different, have different definitions of work, and how to do it. And we all see different things. I guess I mean to say when you edit something, you want to give as much constructive criticism as you can. And you see the things that could help. Someone else might not see any of what you did ad said it was great. If someone thinks you're supercritical, they should realize they don't have to take all, if any, of your suggestions.

  7. Here's the thing, though, at least my thoughts on it.

    Don't ask if you don't want to know.

    We may not like being told anything other than "WOW THIS IS AMAZING," but let's be real here.

    Critiques are meant to help out. There's one thing, to say "Well, this doesn't ring true, because of A, B, C, and D..." or to say "Dude, this sucks."

    And I know you'd never tell anyone that their book outright sucks, without at least offering some ideas to make it better.

  8. Any piece of writing could be made better with enough editing, which is why I'd never tell someone their writing sucks. All of us were at that point with our writing...some of us have just worked on improving it a lot longer. Unfortunately, there are a lot of folks who don't want to go through the effort to learn what it takes to improve.


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