Today’s Writing Tip: Critiquing Someone Else’s Work

sig2010At some point in our writing careers, we may join a writers’ group or be asked to provide constructive criticism to a fellow writer. This is not always as easy as it seems. Some people have thick skin and when they say that they want us to be bold and to deconstruct their work, they mean it.

Other people may be very sensitive. Some may want a thorough evaluation and others may only want a brief report akin to a book review. What to do?

First, be tactful. Telling someone that the characters in their novel sound like robots is potentially hurtful. Make an honest list of what you think about the material and then go back and revise it as carefully as possible, taking your friend’s feelings into account.

Second, be honest. It won’t help anyone to tell them that their book is on its way to being an Amazon bestseller if it’s an inferior and poorly-written piece of work. Third, be helpful and individualize your response. For example, if you think the whole book should be rewritten from start to finish but you know perfectly well that the writer has neither the ability nor the intention to do so, don’t provide that kind of feedback. It won’t be useful.

Make sure that whatever you say is kind and specific so that the writer knows how to implement changes. Instead of saying, “That scene in part two didn’t work for me at all,” tell the author why and if at all possible, suggest a way to improve it.

Last, talk about the writing instead of the writer so that the person doesn’t feel attacked. In the end, your writer friends will love you for your diplomacy and will benefit by your carefully chosen advice.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books and a manuscript editor. You can find her at