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Critiquing each other's work

Editor's Note: These guidelines are borrowed from The Writer’s Loft "General Critique Guidelines" and Judith Barrington’s Writing the Memoir.


When someone else’s work is on the table 


  1. Try to believe in the possibilities of the piece: Please try to give feedback in a way that can be heard and only for the motive of strengthening a peer’s manuscript. We are all here to help others (and ourselves) get to the next level in our writing.

  2. Start and end with what you liked: Start with something you liked, then provide constructive criticism, then end with something you liked. Tell them what moved you, what you can still see or feel, what you remember most clearly, where you lost attention or were confused.

  3. Use “I” statements: It’s better to say, “I found this part boring” not “This part was boring.”

  4. Show respect: Even if you hate a piece of writing, the writer has invested time and effort on the manuscript. Phrase your criticism in a way that wouldn’t offend you if your writing was on the table.

  5. Articulate your response as clearly as you can: It is not enough simply to feel something. If, for example, you “found this part boring,” explain why you found it boring. Don’t just say you found it boring. Use polite phrasing. If you “found this part boring,” it might be nicer to say, “I found this part a bit slow,” or “this part pulled me out of the story…” and then explain why.

  6. Offer constructive suggestions: If you “found this part boring,” identify any opportunities you see to make it not boring.

  7. Never criticize the writer: Discuss the manuscript, not the writer. If you “found this part boring,” never tell the writer “you write boring manuscripts.”

  8. Don’t insert your own voice: Suggesting word choices or rephrasing to clarify unclear sections can often be helpful, but do not suggest paragraphs, entire stanzas, or pages that sound like your own voice.

  9. Don’t push the writer: The writer makes the ultimate decision on whether to accept or reject any criticism. Even if you feel certain a change needs to be made, do not push too hard.

When your work is on the table

  1. Ask for specific feedback you would like. If you’re unsure about the genuineness of characters, scenes, voice etc. ask for input.

  2. Don’t take it personally: Criticism of your work is not criticism of you as a person. While you have put a lot of effort into the manuscript, try to maintain a separation between you and your writing. You might think it’s perfect while others think it’s too long, and still others think it’s too short. Learn to classify voices offering criticism so you can decide which trumps which.

  3. Refrain from getting defensive: You don’t need to defend your writing. Nobody is attacking it. Let it go if you don’t agree with someone’s critique.

  4. Be open minded: Don’t just hear, listen – especially if it’s something you don’t like. Often the most useful suggestions are the ones you find distasteful at first. Try others’ ideas out. Be open-minded and challenge your assumptions. The more you listen, rewrite, and see improvements in your work, the easier it will become to accept feedback in the future.

  5. Make notes on your copy as people talk—even if you don’t immediately agree with what they say.

  6. Don’t respond at all until everyone has commented: This means you remain silent throughout the critique.

  7. Wait: After hearing feedback, let it sit for a day or a week before going back and revising or thinking about changes. You should only make changes in your manuscript based on what rings truest to you.

  8. It’s your work: Listen to what people think. Then decide what does or doesn’t work for your story and figure out how you want to fix it.

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