Dare to Read

October 14, 2010

How to Critique a Piece of Writing (Art)

Filed under: On Writing — carmenferreiroesteban @ 11:21 pm
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by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban

The following is the best advice I ever read about giving and receiving criticism.

I found it at the Eastern PA chapter of the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators website (http://www.scbwiepa.org/critiques.html).

I think it is perfect as it is, so, without further discussion, here it is.


Criticism should be constructive not destructive. “I didn’t like the way you wrote (or illustrated) that” is never valid criticism. It always helps a fellow writer or artist to know the strengths of a manuscript or illustration as well as the weaknesses. A compliment offered first softens a “constructive” negative to follow. Try to tell your fellow writer or artist why something doesn’t work for you and offer possibilities for change. Always be encouraging. Not everyone will respond to a manuscript or illustration in the same way. Those receiving criticism should remember that any suggestion offered can be accepted or rejected. The author or artist has the final word on what stays.

Remember that you are in a critique group to get feedback. Often, your words or pictures can surround you so you can’t see flaws in your work. Try not to be too defensive when you’re criticized; be good-natured about it. All creators feel protective about their “children”.
A critique group can remain strong only when the sanctity of that group is respected. Thus, it is never okay to use the ideas or the research done by another member, to impose upon their contacts in the publishing world, or to reveal to others outside of the critique group the work-in-progress without the author’s or illustrator’s express permission.

March 25, 2010

What I look for in a manuscript critique

Filed under: On Writing — carmenferreiroesteban @ 5:24 pm
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Writing is a lonely business. A critique group is the writer’s way to connect to others, to get feedback and discuss your characters as if they were real, without your sanity being questioned.

It takes courage to bring your manuscript to other people’s attention, even more so to receive their critiques with an open mind, without taking them as a personal attack and becoming defensive.

Yes, you love your story and you want everybody to love it too. But it’s rare the story that cannot be improved in a rewrite. The comments of other writers that see your work for the first time and come to it from different perspectives could be an invaluable help in creating a stronger piece.

This does not mean you must take all the advice offered. In fact, it may be impossible to do so, because sometimes the changes suggested by different members contradict each other. But if the majority agrees on some point, you may want to reconsider and change that particular part.

A negative critique can be overwhelming, especially for new writers. For me, the best critique is one that is balanced, one that offers both a positive evaluation and a carefully worded statement of the work weaknesses.

I like positive comments not only because I need praise, who doesn’t?, but because it is as important for me to know what is working in my story than what it’s not. A critique that only states what doesn’t work let me wondering whether there is anything at all I should leave as is, or, even worse, whether it’s worth to tell this story in the first place.

That is why I do not take a manuscript to be critiqued until I have a detailed outline and I know where I’m going with it. Too many opinions, especially negative ones, when the story is still a seed in my mind will break it for me. I take it when I have a first draft and want other people’s opinions to consider and incorporate, if I think them appropriate, in my next draft.

On the other extreme, if you believe your story is perfect as it is, don’t bring it to a critique group, as you will probably resent any suggestions for change. If you think it is ready, send it to an agent/publisher instead.

Carmen Ferreiro Esteban