Critique: Part 1–The Need To and the How To

Once a writer has a first draft, this is the point where things get interesting.

For many writers, the idea of showing drafted work to someone initially is very hard. I tell my students from day one that they have to get over that. The benefits of getting feedback on any piece of writing far outweigh the negatives. I know that creative writing can feel very personal, and a bad feedback session makes a writer feel small. The best advice I can give you is this:


When you are drafting, you want to care. A lot. You want to have fun and play. You want to explore. When you show your draft to other people, you have to put the draft outside of you. Outside of your ego. Outside of your emotions. What’s being examined are the words on the page, not you or your writing process, or your multiple hours (years? decades?) of work.

Someone is doing you a favor by looking your work over for you. They deserve a kind and courteous response from you for doing so. Even if you don’t agree with a blessed word they say.

I know that all peer editors are not created equal. Writers want to find someone that will give both positive feedback and constructive criticism. If a critique is only negative, and not helpful, I doubt that it’s helpful to you as a writer to go back to that person for a reading in the future. Similarly, someone who strokes the writer’s ego, but doesn’t substantiate that praise, or doesn’t give you anything to chew on as revisions occur, might not be the best person to read your work.

Another factor to consider when asking someone to critique is getting a writer at the skill level as you are currently. A more experienced writer can teach, but really can’t give a less experienced writer the same kind of feedback as a peer can. I think you need both kinds of feedback.

Writing is viewed as a solitary occupation. Where can you, writing in Cherokee Scream, Texas (population 614) find someone to read your work that knows something about writing? Glad you asked.

Not all of these methods have proven successful for everyone, but they have for someone, so I’m listing them here.

1. Take a creative writing class. A great way to get critiques on the basics of writing, although sometimes they can be genre unfriendly.

2. Join a local writers group. For example, in my area of the world, The Noble Pen. The upside is that people there are ready to read your writing. The downside is that some of these folks are only hobby writing, and can’t give you the depth of feedback you need if you’re trying to publish.

3. Find a writing group near you with similar goals. Ways to do that? Find a Writing Group offers those resources. Other writers use Writer Meetup. Looks like it is easier to find a group if you go more metro, but it’s not impossible to find a group in a different kind of area. Of course, like deciding where you want to move, you want to spend some time finding a group where you fit well.

4. Critique partners. Many writers use critique partners. I like using Maggie Stiefvater‘s success as an example. Tessa, Maggie, and Brenna operated on the same vibe. You may be able to find people to do this.

5. On-line writers workshop. If you really can’t find anyone near Cherokee Scream, there’s always finding a workshop that operates on line. Critters is a good example, as is The Online Writing Workshop for SF, Fantasy and Horror. Again, don’t forget to investigate to find your comfort zone and find readers you’re comfortable with.

6. Workshops. Oh, you know, I went to this workshop called Viable Paradise (2 weeks left to register! What are you waiting for???), and I learned a lot, as well as met a great group of people who are kind enough to read my stuff. There are others: Taos Toolbox, Odyssey, and even a few versions of Clarion. These do cost, but you get instruction as well as critique.

7. Retreats. Usually a like-minded group of writers take some time away and write together, and look at each others stuff. Two examples spring to mind: Blue Heaven is an invite only retreat, and a group of YA authors have been known to travel to various Southern locations to write. There was even one writing group I read about who ran off for a week to write in a castle some place cool.

A final note about having others look at your work: it’s really part of the job. You can’t escape it. Should you be lucky enough to have a book accepted, an editor will put you through your paces. An agent might have suggestions for you. Proofreaders and those who blurb will see your work. Got to get used to that idea if you want to publish. Got to, got to.

Next: Giving good critique.


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

One thought on “Critique: Part 1–The Need To and the How To”

  1. As you mentioned, I have noticed that the density of writers in your area determines how likely you are to find a writers group that is a good fit for you. If you live in a city of under a million which doesn’t have a big writing school, you might have to take what you can get.

    This isn’t all a bad thing. Personally, I like the drop-in format of my group. Perhaps I may have gotten further, faster if I had been able to join a more pro-oriented groups, but then again, a few years ago I might not have gotten into one of those invitation only groups. I also might not have found how much I enjoy teaching the craft.

    Thanks for the Noble Pen plug.

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