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Apr 20, 2021

Work. Relax. Don't Think.

By: Kevin Killough

Offering helpful critiques to your critique partners is a bit of a balancing act. You want to give honest feedback on where the writers’ weaknesses lie, but you also want to be encouraging. Many critique partners try to balance out the negative comments by pointing out the writers’ strengths, which is a good practice.  
Another way you can inspire your critique partners while maintaining honesty in your feedback is by framing comments on shortcomings in a way that empowers your critique partner. 
Here are a few tips on how to do that. 

Offer everything as an opinion
In the first chapter of my novel in progress, the protagonist is using MySpace to post pictures of her trip to Rio De Janeiro. Before the rise of Facebook, MySpace dominated the market. My use of the MySpace platform is meant to show the reader that the story is set somewhere around 2008. 

Some critique partners couldn’t deduce why I would choose such an obscure platform. Perhaps they’re too young to remember a time when Facebook wasn’t the biggest thing, or they just haven’t ever heard of MySpace. There’s nothing wrong with highlighting things you find confusing in your partners’ work, but always keep in mind it might just be you. 

It helps to preface such comments with, “You may have a reason for this choice, but I couldn’t quite surmise it. Here’s what it did for me…” When you frame your thoughts as opinions, you give more space for writers to consider the remarks as suggestive. It leaves more power of choice in their hands. 

Always be a peer
In the course of reading a partner’s work, you might come across a glaring flaw, such as white-room or talking-head syndrome. The problem seems apparent to you as the reader, but don’t assume the writer isn’t aware of what these terms mean. The whole point of having critique partners is to provide that objective feedback, which sometimes spots what is obvious to readers, but missed by even the most skilled writers.

When reviewing a piece of writing that has an obvious flaw, it might be tempting to explain the theory behind your comments. While the intent is to be thorough, you run the risk of assuming the mentor role, which might be off-putting for critique partners, especially if they have a lot of experience. 

It’s better to include a note in your final comments that you’re more than happy to explain and expand on any points your partner didn’t understand. Let them seek that from you. 

Never be proscriptive 
In the same way you want to avoid taking on a mentor role, you never want to assume the writer’s role in a partner’s work. You always want to let the writer find his or her own voice. So, it can be disempowering to make specific suggestions on how to address a flaw. Let your partner ask for that kind of help before offering it. You always want to stay on the same level as your partners and just be that objective eye that’s difficult, if not impossible, for writers to have with their own writing. 

About the author 
Kevin Killough is a journalist who found a niche in small-town reporting. His work has appeared in dozens of publications, and he’s won multiple awards for his articles from the North Dakota Press Association and the Wyoming Press Association, as well as an honorable mention from the National Press Association. He’s now pursuing a career in fiction writing and will be completing his first novel in 2021.