Stay Friends, Critique Well

It’s not every day that a friend trusts you enough to send you some of their writing for review.  If you’ve been put in this privileged position, congratulations – you’ve earned a deep level of trust.  Now don’t mess it up!

On first read you’ll most likely get distracted by where your thoughts and feelings are different than the thoughts and feelings of the author.  Keep those to yourself. Now, read through a second time to find the parts where there’s a dissipation of difference – where they made a connection with you – and highlight those parts instead. The challenge for the writer is admitting where she’s just like everyone else.

When you start your critique, note the greatest strength first.  You’ll want to tell the writer that you see their creative voice so that they trust you when you tell them what’s not working – in the next step.  But we’re not just buttering up – we use what we’re good at to compensate for what we struggle with the most.

Next up, be specific about when are where you felt confused when you were reading. Pull out a part, extrapolate for the writer and see if you’re right.  The writer will have to refine in order to say what they really mean, even if they slay you with curses under their breath a few times first.

If you think the work needs restructuring, ask questions that will help the writer rethink how they’ve presented material – instead of suggesting specific structural changes.  Unless the writer has asked for specific structural changes that is.  If that’s the case suggest a few possible ways of approaching the structure instead of explaining what you would do.

Your written response is only your first step.  Your writer  will likely not want to make the changes you suggest, especially if you’re right on.  Offer to read the next version and follow-up till you get the next draft.

Now you’re friends for life.

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One Response to “Stay Friends, Critique Well”

  1. Sean Hood Says:

    This is great advice on the feedback process. Giving good feedback is an art that every writer should learn…so that s/he can get great feedback in return.

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