Giving and Receiving Critiques

~ By Melina Kantor 

You can’t get very far in the writing world without learning, and quickly, that writers need to develop a thick skin. Our work is always out there for critique partners, reviewers, agents, editors, and readers to read and pick apart.

As scary as this may be, it’s actually for the best. Every writer, no matter how talented, no matter how famous, needs to be edited and critiqued. It makes the stories we’re dying to tell so much stronger.

Critiques are a necessary evil, kind of like going to the dentist. The thing is, no matter how harsh they may be, critiques should make us excited and eager to keep writing.

That’s why I think that knowing how to give and receive critiques is so important.

Here’s my list of the top five things I feel are important when giving and receiving critiques.

Giving Critiques:

1. This, I hope, is obvious, but critiques should always begin with something positive. No matter how rough the work is, there’s something in there to praise, and the author deserves to hear it. Without any positive feedback, the writer has no reason to continue working on the story.

2. Don’t argue. If you make a suggestion and the writer you’re working with doesn’t agree, don’t push. Remember, it’s not your story. Once you’ve made your suggestion, your job is done.

3. Don’t try to rewrite the story. Yes, if you were to write the story, you’d probably do things differently. But you’re not writing the story, so all you can do is point out what didn’t work for you and answer any questions the writer may have.

4. Focus on the craft and the story, and not your own personal taste. For example, you may not like a particular protagonist, but that’s your taste and not necessarily helpful information. What can be helpful is to point out specific issues you have with that protagonist, such as, “I didn’t understand her motivation for. . .” or “Her goal wasn’t clear to me.” Those are clear-cut issues the writer can go back and work with.

5. Don’t talk down to the person you’re critiquing, and keep your attitude positive. Don’t assume that they don’t know as much about writing as you do. Remember, all stories go through countless drafts and always need work, and your job is more about giving feedback than teaching.

Receiving Critiques:

1. Be gracious and thankful. Your critiquer has put a lot of effort into helping you make your story stronger.

2. Don’t argue. You have every right to disagree with what your critiquer tells you, but they have a right to their opinions. However, if a critiquer points out a valid issue with your story but you’re not comfortable with their suggestion as to how to fix it, it can be useful to politely discuss what you’re trying to do and talk about other possible solutions.

3. Get a second opinion. Two heads are better than one, and it’s funny how critiques differ. One reader may absolutely love a scene that another reader suggests you cut.

4. Listen to your gut.  It’s your story. You don’t have to make a change to your story just because one critiquer suggests it. But if more than one person points out the same issue, do take a second look and try to come up with your own way of taking care of the issue.

5. Please, please don’t take everything personally. Yes, we put a lot of ourselves into our stories, so critiques can feel extremely insulting. But remember that every writer gets critiqued, and critiques aren’t about you. They’re about making your story stronger.

So, dear readers. What do you think about critiques? Do you have any experiences to share? What, in your opinion, makes a successful critique?

Melina writes contemporary women’s fiction with a pinch of oregano and a dash of chutzpah. She recently returned from a two month trip to Crete and Israel, where she visited  family and friends did her best to turn her travels into research and inspiration for her writing. You can visit her at

4 thoughts on “Giving and Receiving Critiques”

  1. I like all objective feedback, especially in the areas that need work. I love to get ripped apart! I lose focus on what I’ve written and I really rely on a fresh pair of eyes to see what I can’t see anymore, and it matters most in the “problem” areas. I need to know when something’s melodramatic, cheesy, or against characterization. If I think the person’s full of crap, I’m confident enough to sleep on it and then decide if I should ignore the comment and move on.

  2. Robena, I couldn’t agree more! There’s no need for flowery compliments, and the more honesty, the better. However, I do believe that honest feedback can and absolutely should be delivered in a tactful, positive way. (By positive I don’t mean complimentary, I mean positive as in the feedback will help the story become stronger kind of way.)

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