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Mar 6, 2019

Dos and Don’ts When Critiquing Someone’s Work

By: Andrea Alcolea.

I have been writing since I was thirteen years old. I began writing short stories and monologues for myself, and only shared them once with my middle school English teacher. It was my first experience receiving a critique, and it was a good one. I wish I would have kept her notes. I was only a middle school girl then, I didn’t know the value of what I had. Thankfully, I still remember her words. I like to think it’s what planted the writing seed within me.

After writing short stories and monologues, I grew up and adulthood quickly took over. I got married and had three adorable children. It wasn’t until my roaring late twenties that I decided to pick up my writing hobby once more. But this time, it stuck! It has taken me two and a half years to complete my current MS (manuscript).

My story is a YA (Young Adult) Dystopian Romance. It takes place right here in the United States, sometime in the near future, and has a major element of mystery which surrounds current events. Things that we, as Americans, are currently facing. However, there won’t be any spoilers today. What I will share with you here is where I am in the writing process: Beta Reading!

Once I typed the last words in my novel, I was elated and ready to celebrate. Break out the Champagne!  I opened my Twitter and posted a tweet to mark the very hour. After the excitement fizzled away and the champagne holstered, I stopped to ask myself, what’s next? I searched for a checklist I had created during one of my many cases of writer’s block. The checklist included what I was supposed to do after I finished my first draft: look for beta readers.

I found many sites on Google, created different accounts, and then found CritiqueMatch! Out of all the websites, by far, CritiqueMatch was the most user friendly and had the least steps to get your work read. No need to rack up any amount of points. I added like-minded writers who became my partners, then began my beta reading process.

What’s the first thing you want to Do when you’ve joined a beta reading community? Read. Their. Work. First.

Remember that you are going to be asking them to dive into your book, chapter after chapter, so you want to think about this as an exchange. You read. Then, they read.

But when you’re new, you want to put yourself out there in every way, so in the beginning, you may be reading a lot more than your work is being read. And that’s okay! You build rapport this way. 

Here are some Dos and Don’ts when you start critiquing someone’s work.

Once you’ve connected with critique partners, send them a message telling them a little bit about yourself and what you’ve been working on. Offer to read their work and when you do, read with a genuine appetite. Do read their work and treat it as if you’ve it written in yourself. They’ve given you their work, which puts them in a vulnerable position. You will soon find yourself in that very place, so give them the attention you’d want them to have when reading your MS.

When you’re reading, Do takes notes and add comments by using the ‘add comment’ button on the top left-hand corner of the page. This is a very useful tool that CritiqueMatch offers. This is useful when beta reading their MS because the website will automatically highlight the section and leave the note for the writer.

When leaving notes, remember that you are leaving critiques based on the work and not the writer. Each writer has their own style, and chances are, you won’t find yourself reading for someone who has the exact writing style as you do. Don’t leave critiques that diminish the writer’s style. For example, if they chose to write in the first person and you write using a narrator, even though it may not be your method of choice, it’s not okay to recommend they change their format.

Do critique on things like dialogue flow, if you find yourself getting lost while you’re reading. Are there any parts that were difficult to digest? Constructively point these out and offer useful tips and potential solutions.

Another helpful way to leave critiques is to be specific! Do explain why you’ve chosen to point out a weak part of their MS. Don’t just say “I found myself rereading the second paragraph.” Instead, choose an expanded version of your thoughts. Here’s an example:

“I noticed that I had to go back and read the second paragraph over when Andy said he was going to go to the movies. He said he was going alone. But as soon as the third paragraph begins, another character has been introduced. Carol. Carol and Andy start their dialogue talking about the previews and how they think Rom-coms are overrated. I’d suggest adding light dialogue before Andy enters the theatre. Maybe a phone call to Carol or a text. This will help the transition and flow of the read.”
See what I did there? I pointed out the specific instance where and why I was lost, and I gave a suggestion to add dialogue and how the writer could achieve this revision. The key is in the details. The more you explain to the writer exactly where you struggled, the better they will be able to understand how to make the necessary changes to polish their work.

Ultimately, the critique should leave the writer with enough suggestions that they feel a revision will be useful and achievable. All of my critique partners can tell you that I end the critique on a positive note. Do remind the writer that they have come far enough to have someone read their work, and that takes courage. When I read for a partner, I make sure I point out all of their talents. If the writer has strong dialogue I make sure to tell them. Adding details about what makes their dialogue strong will help reinforce your positivity.

At the end of it all, your goal as a critiquer is to help reinforce, polish, and amplify the writer’s voice. If you can do that, you’ll become a trusted critiquer and become apart of a writing community that can last a lifetime.    


About the Author: Andrea Alcolea
Currently residing in San Antonio, TX originally from Miami, FL. I am 30 years young, raising three little trailblazers, and I’ve been with my Husband for 11 years. I’m a writer, which means I spend 15% of my time writing and the other 85% on Google, searching different ways to write smile. I also enjoy photography and film making.