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Feb 11, 2021

The Art of Critiquing: How Others Can Help You Sculpt Your Work

By L. J. Hasbrouck

Many consider writing to be a solitary journey, but it’s dangerous to go alone. Okay, maybe not dangerous, but I’d advise against it. Here’s why.

There’s a massive world out there filled with people like us: creators who want to tell their stories. But telling isn’t enough, as many editors will advise when it comes to your writing. You thought I was going to write something about “showing” here, but I actually want you to share. It’s scary because we’re all afraid other people might not enjoy our work or think we’re talented authors. Maybe you write as a hobby and don’t care about getting your work out there. That’s understandable. But sharing it with other authors, editors, and readers can help you see things you’d likely never see on your own.

Rejection is a staple in this industry. Face that fact now. Your ego will be crushed one way or another. Don’t take it personally, and apply that mantra to every aspect of your (ironically) extremely personal writing. Once you move past that, approach writing as a craft, something you want to improve on and learn from, and maybe even use to teach others. We’re all in this together. Reach out for help. Accept it. Take the criticism with the encouragement and apply it to your writing.

Here’s the thing: nothing about writing is easy. That also applies to finding critique partners. Some won’t be a fan of your style or genre. Others might be fans but don’t offer much when it comes to advice. Be clear from the outset what you’re expecting when it comes to the level and quality of work, and also understand that it’s better when your partner doesn’t gush praise all over the place. You want someone who will balance the encouragement with criticism. But here’s the most important element I’ve found during my personal experiences: you don’t want to work with anyone who will change fundamental elements of your style or story.

Our writing is a part of us. It comes from us, like children. Therefore, your writing contains your DNA. And you don’t want anyone to alter that. A good critique partner will respect and understand what makes your writing and story unique to you. They won’t tell you what they want to read. Defining personal criticisms can be tough, but once you learn where to draw the line between “that’s valid and impartial” and “geez, this person really wants me to flesh out my sex scenes,” you’ll find the most rewarding partnerships. Once you choose your partners, I recommend paring the amount back so you don’t overcrowd your work with too many opinions. It’s like carving a sculpture and asking your apprentices to come chisel the details in—if too many people bang away at it, you’ll break off all the identifying features of your masterpiece.

When I first started writing, I coveted my work, afraid to share it with the world. But I gradually began sharing it with my mom, my friends, fellow fans, and eventually, fellow writers. And I have learned more from those writers than anyone or anything else along my journey. The wondrous amount of variety in the human mind allows us to be unique in how we approach things, and I’ve been privileged to see through my partners’ eyes. They’ve enhanced my writing, editing, and reading skills to a point I would never have reached on my own. Opening yourself to rejection allows you to be embraced by people who will support you. You don’t have to go it alone.

In the end, I look at each book I finish with pride. The words on the page remind me of all the work I put into the story, every darling I killed, every errant comma I moved, each filler word I deleted. They also remind me of all the work my critique partners put into it, of how much they helped shape my art into the best story it could be. But it remains my story because my partners knew how to help me tell it.


About the Author:

L. J. has been writing since her mother gifted her a heavy metal typewriter. Her first attempt (an X-Files rip-off) eventually transitioned into fanfiction written during the early days of the internet, then culminated with publishing four novels and a short story. She aspires to become an editor so she can help others achieve their dreams—and achieve her own dream of working from home with her labradoodle, Link, and her beloved husband.

When she isn’t writing, L. J. enjoys reading, watching horror movies and true crime shows, drawing/painting/crafting, and playing video games. She’s also obsessed with all things retrowave, such as the music and aesthetic. Give her palm trees, flamingos, and synthesizers all day, every day.  

If you want to read her random thoughts or updates on her newest projects, click here: