Recently, I was asked to review a manuscript for a fellow writer. I agreed without trepidation thinking it would be an enjoyable experience. I would read a new book and she would receive feedback. Isn’t that what writers do? On a rainy afternoon, a coffee cup in one hand, and my Kindle in the other, I sat down in my corner chair. But by chapter three I wanted to do the laundry, pull weeds, or run ten miles. I hate running!
I was asked to give my honest opinion of a manuscript, not just as a reader, but as a professional writer. My opinion carried weight, meaning, and consequence. That duty was not lost on me. But I had to dig deep to consider if the writer wanted truth. Do you tell the truth to help the writing, or do you lie to spare the writer? The last thing you want is to destroy a writer’s confidence. Half the battle of becoming a successful writer is remaining positive. And the other half is good writing and storytelling.
BECOMING THE CRITIC
So how do you critique another writer? Put yourself in the other writer’s shoes. Ask yourself, How would you like to hear about your writing? Make sure to give constructive feedback, not criticism. Understand it’s not your writing, or your story. Take ego out of it. And, don’t compare your writing with theirs. If a writer has asked for criticism, edits, and oversight, they are seeking to be a better writer, perfect their story, and complete a tight manuscript to be readied for submission and/or publication. They are seeking to put forth the most professional work possible, and a fellow writer can offer a critical eye with insight to obtain those goals necessary for success.
Read with care. Make notes, and mark it up as you go, and then write your thoughts along the way. If your critique partner asks specific questions, answer those questions. If they want more, figure out what it is they really want answers to. I’m a writer who wants to see the bloodied version. I want to see my flaws in the sunlight. Some I can mend, some I have to hide under a cover, and others I proudly show off, drawing attention to them. (For example, I unashamedly use adverbs.) I take advice I need and throw away what doesn’t fit my writing. I have learned to sift through the suggestions. But others may not want the same blunt approach. Ask them when in doubt. Understanding their wants, as well as their needs, will alleviate the burden of telling them everything–good or bad–about the manuscript, but will also give you permission to be truthful where necessary.
BEING A KIND CRITIC
Many articles suggest when giving a critique, start by emphasizing the good–to kick it off on a positive note. Let the author know what is good about the book. Kindness goes a long way. But there are times when this rule is limited. Some writing is bad, inexperienced, and needs work. As a critique partner, you owe the writer constructive, useful advice. Be authentic. Tell the truth. But just as writers are seeking your expertise, they are also seeking encouragement. Remember, writing is a solitary sport. No one is cheering us on. We live and breathe alone while we write. Balance the truth factor with the encouragement factor, but don’t lie. When asked to critique, you are given an important, if not vital role in the book writing process. Your expertise and knowledge is why someone came to you. Don’t waste it on niceties. That isn’t what someone asked you to do. This is a job. Do it right. Do it well. But I go back to my opening advice: treat writers as you would want to be treated. Be kind, professional, and valuable. If you follow those rules, then both you and the writer will have gained from the experience in a positive way.