Revision The Importance of a Critique

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Revision: The Importance of a Critique

We type “the end” and are so excited, but it’s very hard to see our baby manuscript objectively. The truth is no draft is perfect. Even setting the manuscript aside for a couple of weeks, we probably won’t see all that needs to be changed. Marsha Diane Arnold once said, “There are no first drafts in the library.” So true.

How do we know what’s working?

Many writers depend on beta readers to tell them if a story, article, or book is working. Yes, I believe that may be helpful. But an actual critique is more valuable because other writers are in the trenches themselves. I like how C.A. Sanders says it, “Rewriting alone, in an echo chamber, does nothing for you except reinforce your flaws as a writer (and every writer has flaws). You need more than an echo, you need listeners. You need a critique group.”

03-05-24 IFW Quote Revision The Importance of a Critique FixedI’ve been in a number of critique groups over the years, and wouldn’t do without one.

  • First, they listen and give me hope. An article may not be working, but they find good things and encourage me.
  • Second, they teach. Dan taught about not distancing the reader in fiction. Gretchen is really good at overview. They all catch typos. When someone is confused, I probably didn’t explain something well. Or maybe it was only in my head and not on the page!
  • Third, they make me work harder. Comments such as, “What is she thinking here?” or “Wouldn’t he react here?” make me go deeper. Kai Strand says, “I love how a story, or a character expands with the help of critique partners.”
  • Fourth, I even learn from my critiques of their manuscripts. Ooh, I just told that writer to add some sensory details. Does my scene need more senses? Once, I said to a partner, “Three not four actions in a sentence.” Then I wondered why I’d said that. Research showed me the reason and I’m more aware of it in my own writing now.
  • Fifth, they motivate me. I want to have material for our critique group—so it sets an artificial deadline. They may ask, “Are you still working on xxxx?” That means that manuscript stuck with them or they want to see more. Woo hoo! Also, being around others’ writing makes me want to write.

Critiques come in good and bad flavors unfortunately. I observed someone who did not understand that a dwarf wasn’t a “little person” even though the story was obviously a fantasy including a dragon. Once a critiquer said to me, “Why’d you name him Brad? I knew a Brad and he was horrible.” Obviously, that person’s comments were more about her than my writing. And sometimes, people can be flat mean—“Don’t quit your day job” is what one writer was told.

Signs of a Good Critique

  • Encouragement and kindness. This includes positive remarks. “Great topic.” “I love your humor.” Other “I” statements are important, too. “I didn’t understand the joke” versus critical “That joke is dumb.” The former is helpful and the latter hurtful. Frank A. Clark said, “Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” Revision_ The Importance of a Critique CANVA Encouragement
  • Don’t tell me my manuscript is great when it’s not! That will not help my revisions. “…a criticism means that there is something that jars, something that is not quite right. And whether it seems right or not to you, it’s not getting across to someone else. So you need to rethink it, even if you don’t agree in the end.” – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Newbery-winning author.
  • There should be a mixture of positive and negative comments. “Critique should be honest, just, and balanced between strengths and weaknesses.” – Alvalyn Lundgren
  • This includes basic grammatical ability and someone who reads and writes in your genre or category. Be sure they read new material and are familiar with the current market.
  • Practical suggestions. “I’d like to see more action in this scene.” “Consider expanding this section in your article.”
  • “What is his motivation here?” Oh, I didn’t make that clear. More rewriting needed. “Who’s your audience?”

Critiques could also include brainstorming. “What if he did _____?” Or even motivation to write a new story because of an off-hand comment. I love it when I have an “Oh!” moment inspired by a critique.

Finding a Critiquer

Critique groups or critique matchups are free and can often be found through writing organizations, writer events, writing classes, writer discussion groups, and even libraries. Writer’s Relief provides a list of “Writers Associations.” Critiques are usually confidential, although there are some public forums where one can get a critique as well.

What about hiring a critiquer or paying for a critique?

It can definitely be worthwhile, especially once you’ve gotten other feedback. Just make sure the professional works in the same area as your manuscript. ICL offers a paid critique service where submissions are matched with one of our instructors with experience in the genre of the manuscript. Find out more on our manuscript critique service page.

“Critical feedback shared in good faith is inherently a constructive dialogue. A ‘critique,’ a term that is both a noun and a verb, represents the systematical application of critical thought, a disciplined method of analysis, expressing of opinions, and rendering judgments.” – Kilroy J. Oldster

Receiving critiques can be difficult.

“Usually, critiques sting a little. That’s okay. Sometimes, you’ll get lucky and your suspicions about what is weak in your writing will only be confirmed. Other times, you’ll be surprised that the critic found weaknesses in parts of the work that you thought were the strongest.” – Melissa Donovan

Revision_ The Importance of a Critique CANVA frustrated writerRemember, “The object of critique is to force the writer to take an objective look at what has been written, evaluate its suitability, tighten the piece where needed, then let your words stand on their own.” – “The Importance of Critique for Serious and Successful Writers” – Writer’s Relief.

It’s also not about you personally, it’s only about what’s on the page. Often, I find it helpful to listen to or read the critique, and then give it time to settle in my mind. I may need to focus on the positive comments a while before I can consider actually revising. Often, once I let the hurt go, I get excited about making changes and am pleased to see my manuscript improve.

In an article for the Harvard Business Review, the authors said, “In her research on the power of dissent, Charlan Nemeth shows that debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas; rather, they stimulate them.” – Roberto Verganti and Don Norman, “Why Criticism Is Good for Creativity”

Ultimately the changes you make are up to you. But I believe critiques and revisions help you get your manuscript in the best form before sending it out to agents or editors.


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Sue Ford writes for adults as SM Ford and for children under her maiden name, Susan Uhlig. She’s an instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature for two of the writing for magazine courses. You can find her on her website: and on Twitter: @susanuhlig.





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