Preparing for a Workshop // Part 2 // critiquing

6:00 AM

This is part two of my Preparing for a Workshop mini series. If you missed the first post, you can read that here.

And now for today's post! CRITIQUING.

**WARNING: I might rant. Just a bit. Not 100% sure, but you should be warned, all the same.



There are several important things to remember when giving and receiving a critique. Let's start with giving someone a critique.

#1: ENACT THE SANDWICH RULE.

I think Jill talked about this once upon a time at Go Teen Writers (not 100% sure about that though). But basically the idea is when critiquing someone's work, if you find a problem, try to sandwich it by taking notes of things you like. If there's a sentence you don't understand and think needs clarification, or a weak description, mention how much you like the line of dialogue before it, and how creative the world building is after. That kind of thing.

It also reminds us to encourage. Because encouragement is very important in critiquing. We writers are dramatic, after all. Often times, we think our books are the ABSOLUTE WORST in the whole world. Getting a critique back that points out all flaws would only help that mindset along. Getting back a critique that was all fluff and fangirl would likely cause the person to not trust what you're saying and disregard the whole critique (unless it's a late draft and close to publication).

POINT BEING: you need a balance of the two. Then the writer will be encouraged to work on the problems, but take comfort in knowing that there were good things about their work and that it's not actually all horrible.

#2: BE HONEST AND HAVE GRACE.

I was at a church service a few weeks ago, and the preacher was talking about how we need to have two things in our conversation: honesty and grace.

You do NOT want to lie. If the book is really not good, don't rave about how amazing it is just to encourage them and make them feel better about it. That's not the truth, so they don't need to hear it. However, do not go on and on about how bad it is and all these issues they need to fix. They don't need to hear that, either.

What they need is the truth. But they need it with grace. If one of their characters is flat, find something good to say about them (sort of like the sandwich rule here) and gently advise on how to make them better.

A THOUGHT: don't ever say, "This is horrible. Do this instead, and then it'll be good." You are not the writer. You are giving advice. Let your comment sound more like, "This is okay, but I don't think it has quite what you were aiming for. Maybe if you added this or took out this bit, it would have more impact and be stronger."

Always, ALWAYS, no matter how bad the book is, be gentle, gracious, and kind. The point of all beta reading and critiquing is to help the author, both with their story and with their motivation.

#3: DO NOT FORGET WHAT YOU'RE AIMING FOR.

If you're doing this as more of an encouragement / pleasure read, do not search the work for problems. If you're doing this to help the writer get through some writing that's giving them trouble, don't just talk about the character issues you spotted, or how their pacing was poor. If they gave you an early draft and asked for big-picture advice, don't go line by line to correct grammar and point out weak descriptions.

If you notice something big that the writer didn't specifically ask for, it's okay to point that out if you think it needs it. But don't point out every little grammar mistake if they sent you a first/second draft.

Keep in mind what they asked for, and read it for the purpose of commenting on that. It will save your time, and give them the advice and encouragement they need.

Now that I've ranted about critiquing for others, here's some advice on how to receive a critique.


#1: COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR BETA ABOUT WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR.

Right off the bat, let your beta know where you are with your story and what you need / want from them right now.

In order for them to give you a good, beneficial critique, they need to know what to look for. Otherwise they're just going to comment on whatever they see. It might help you, yes, but there will likely be some questions you had that they didn't answer, and some things they pointed out that you didn't want or need.

In just about every area of life, communication is very important.


#2: DON'T TAKE EVERYTHING AS LAW.

If your beta marks a line and says, "This is flat and doesn't work. Change it." don't go, "oh dear. I need to change this." At least, not immediately. If they didn't explain why they thought it was flat, try to find the reason for it. Take a step back from your work and consider. If you find the reason for their comment and agree with it, change it. If you don't agree, don't change it. It's not disrespectful to them. You're staying true to yourself and your story.

Also, don't take everything personally. If someone makes a blunt comment, take a step back and breathe before getting too upset about it. They're most likely just trying to help you. They don't mean to make you feel like your book is horrible, or your characters are all 2D. Try to sympathize with them. And most importantly ...


#3: BE OPEN. 

It's easy to send off something (especially something you feel good about) and expect the reader to be all praise and adoration over it. 

But 1) as hard as it is to accept, you're work is likely not perfect yet. Otherwise, you wouldn't need betas.

And 2) they are LOOKING for problems. That's they're job. So, even if it's not actually something you think of as a problem, they're going to find issues with your work.

So when you open their document, remember that they are giving their opinion. Be open to their suggestions, but if you feel the need, remember you can discard their entire critique. (not saying that you should, because everyone can teach you something, but remember that you are in charge and you have the final say in everything about your story right now.) You don't have to do anything. 

But you can. You can learn from what your beta has said. 

Take advantage of the comments they give you. Even if you don't agree, study their reasoning. You might find yourself changing something based on an issue they noticed, even if you don't fix it in the way they suggested.

Just be open and listen. That's soooo important. Take your time, and remember to be thankful. Critiquing someone's work takes time!

And lastly, 


#4: WAIT UNTIL YOU'RE READY.

There are deadlines that have to be met, yes. But for unpublished writers (generally speaking) you're not in a big hurry. There's not a big rush to get things to betas. 

So take your time. Make your work the best you can on your own so that you don't have other people pointing out problems you were already aware of and planning on fixing. 

Know yourself, too. I can't send first drafts to people for them to critique. About four years ago, I sent the first draft of a chapter to my cousin and she critiqued it for me. It was ... not pretty. There were so many issues with the work, and I hadn't even read over it on my own. After I got the critique, I couldn't write for about a week (which was a long time for me). I finally had to tell her I couldn't take first draft critiques anymore. I, personally, cannot handle it. And I know that now. And I stick to that. 

Know yourself. Push yourself, but don't strain yourself. Wait until you're ready, until you can't do much else on your own. Don't wait until it's the most beautiful work of art you've ever created (because that doesn't happen without help) but wait until you know you need the opinions and thoughts of other writers and readers you trust.


I'm 97.5% sure I severely ranted in this post. I'm also 81.06% sure I'm not sorry about it. I hope you learned something from this post! 

Have you ever critiqued or beta read someone's work? Have you ever had your work beta read or critiqued? What was your experience? 

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10 comments

  1. Yay for this post! As always you have such honest and true tips, and I for one can certainly say you follow them! <3 I love beta-reading and have beta-read a few books now, and I always try to give as much encouragement as I can. Opening up their work to others is a massive step for most writers, and everyone deserves respect for doing so, no matter how rough or gleaming the manuscript is! :D

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    1. Yes! It's a huge step, for sure. It takes a deep breath and some wincing to send that document off XP

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  2. This was really helpful! And funnily enough, there was another blog post in my inbox right above yours on the importance of beta reading, so I just finished that and this was the perfect supplement. :)

    Hailey
    www.haileyhudson.wordpress.com

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    1. Ah, I read her post too! Audrey, right? That's so ironic :P

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  3. *nods in agreement* Rant on, Hannah. I think we all benefit from it. XD

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  4. This was a timely and practical post, Hannah! (Just what I go for. :) I'm pretty new to beta reading, so it was helpful. Plus, I always enjoy reading your rants! Thanks. :)

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    1. YAY! I'm glad it was timely for you :D

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  5. This is wonderful! Especially that last point. I admit that I rushed my book off to betas, when I really should have waited. I learned a TON about my writing process and story structure then. For my next novel, I'm definitely going to slow it down when it comes to betas.

    <3

    audrey caylin

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  6. I have to finish my first draft before I'll need alphas OR betas! xD But this post was really helpful in pointing out what's helpful when beta reading. Maybe I should have a go at being a beta reader!

    (also, rant away! we love reading it xD )

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