Independent Writing from an Independent Mind

Open discussion about writing and reading

What not to do when critiquing a writer’s work in progress…

Be truthful and be fair when criticising a work in progress...

Be truthful and be fair when criticising a work in progress...

We all know the story…

A friend who is also a writer has just given you some of his work to look over for contents and it is awful.  You can blow him off.  You can tear him down.  Or you can find some way to give him constructive criticism.  I struggle with this one all of the time but I have learned that there are a few things never to do…

1)      Do not recreate the work. Though you can give your opinion about the style of the work, in the end the final outcome should be left to the writer.   Even if you feel the work is totally awful you shouldn’t rewrite it for the author.  Give him some pointers but for Heaven’s sake, let him do the rewriting.

2)      Don’t blow the requestor off and don’t procrastinate in getting something back. Make sure that they know you are busy even if it takes some time to get back to them.  By doing so you will make them feel that you are disingenuous.

3)      Be fair and civil. You can be direct and to the point but at the same time the writing is not your own.  It belongs to the creator until it is in its final form.  Do not use spirit crushing words when pointing out the flaws in his work.  It will be a degrading experience for the both of you.

4)      Simplify. I have found that if there are fifty various mistakes in a work that a friend has asked me to look over then I will try to make my comments on three or four broad general areas and let them work out the kinks.  This can be eye opening for the other writer and generally pays lots of dividends for the both of you because it is a learning experience for one and a good counseling experience for the other.  Win win.

I can sometimes be quite harsh when looking over someone else’s work and I have had to strive for balance and understanding when asked to give opinions.  Often this is because I really want them to produce something of quality.  But at the end of the day it is much better to only show them the signs and let them finish the work when it is done.  You are taking on the dual roles of coach and cheerleader, not judge and jury.  And remember to walk that fine line: There is nothing gained by crushing somebody but at the same time if you don’t help them become better writers both sides lose!


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