How to Critique Manuscripts & Still Stay Friends


One of the best resources writers have for improving their craft is each other. By forming writing groups, writers can garner critiques of their manuscripts that they can use to revise their work before submitting it to a publisher. But in a writing group, in order to get critiqued, you must also give critiques, and if you want to remain a member of your writing group, this means learning to give constructive critiques.
Giving critiques is ridiculously intimidating. Writers always seem to say, “Give it to me straight; I can take it!” But give them what straight, and by what standards do they expect to be judged? And how are you supposed to focus on other people’s manuscripts, when you’re mostly worried about whether the other members are going to laugh you out of the group and splash horrifying stories about your manuscript all over the internet, maybe even with pictures, damaging your self-esteem forever and making you afraid to ever show your face or your writing to anyone else ever again?
I can’t help you with that last bit, but I can help give you a few guidelines for giving advice to fellow writers. Follow them, and I guarantee you’ll be on the road to being the most popular critiquer in your writing group in no time!
1. Tell them they suck, even if they do. Brutal honesty is destructive, not constructive. Besides, everyone has to start somewhere, and the best teaching method has never been to pound a prospective student into the ground.
2. Blow smoke. Don’t tell someone their cow pie is really lemon meringue–because once they submit it, and everyone says it stinks, they will have no idea why, and worse, they will have no plan for what to do next. As a famous villain once said: “Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plans are horrifying.” Giving someone a plan for how to improve their writing transforms failure into progress. Besides, if they’re asking for help, it is polite to assume they actually do want help, and not just to be told how wonderful they are.
3. Force a square peg in a round hole. Editing someone’s fantasy novel as though it were a thriller because you really prefer the thriller genre will only end in tragedy. Trust me.
Read the rest at the WotC Book Club!