How To Use Writing Critiques

By Jamie McSloy / May 7, 2018
how to use writing critiques featured image

Someone asked a question a while back about writing critiques and how to know which advice to follow.

This person had joined a writing critique group, and they had received two different pieces of advice from two different people.

This is an interesting question and I’m going to write a response that in this article. The person was a fiction writer, but this extends to any sort of writing you do professionally or otherwise.

Are Writing Critiques For You?

You know who gives the best criticism of your work? Your readers or end customers.

If you have never released a piece of work, then you have no business receiving critique from anyone.

The above would probably be controversial if it were shared among writer’s circles, but it is true.

There is absolutely no advice you can receive which will make it easier for you to put that first piece of work out there and subject it to the possible criticism of the world.

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People will say, “what if my work is rubbish?”

And I know the general thing on the Internet is to say, “No it won’t be. You just have to believe in yourself. You can achieve your dreams!”

More realistically your first work will be rubbish. If you write a novel it will probably not so many copies. If you work on a freelance websites for online content writing and write five dollar or $10 articles, you are still in have clients correct you or call you rubbish.

Too many newbies want to avoid that.. You should not want that. You should want to get through that period where you are an amateur and not very good as quickly as possible.

Then you begin to make strides.

The best questions to ask of a critique group or a potential mentor questions where you’ve already done the hard work to start with.

It is better to ask, “what am I doing wrong here?” Than it is to ask, “what am I supposed to do?”

To apply that to writing critique groups, it is much better to have a work in progress or – better yet – a body of work and say, “where do I take this?”

What Sort Of Writing Critique Is Useful?

I recommend above that you take a published body of work to a writing critique group and ask specific questions about what you’re doing wrong or how you can improve.

Here’s the problem with that; most writing critique groups are filled with amateurs.

The problem with asking amateur writers about how to be a better professional writer is that amateur writers are not professional for reason.

They don’t know how to be professional and as such they don’t know what it takes to create professional work.

That’s not to say the work they do is in high quality, but they are not making money from their work. And so they can’t really give you any advice on how to make money from your work.

When you are questioning whether to accept the advice of a writer, you must ask yourself whether they know what they’re talking about in a professional sense, and you must then filter the information they give you based on that?

Take for instance people who go to Reddit for writing advice. They’ll ask a question and get a ton of answers about what they should or shouldn’t do, yet if you look at the people giving the advice, you’ll find that very few of them have any notable success as writers.

The last thing you want to do is take advice that will make you worse off as a writer. When you take advice from amateurs that is the risk you take.

I’d recommend not taking business advice from anyone who is not in business, and I recommend not taking any writing advice from amateurs if you want to be a professional writer.

But What If I Get Two Critiques From Two Professionals And They Both Say Something Different?

Here’s where the question gets complicated and also interesting.

What should you do if you get writing advice from two different writers who both do two different things and the answers they give you are inherently contradictory?

At this point, you have two examples of success and both could be correct. Which do you pick?

I had this exact scenario a couple of years ago. Having written a couple of short stories, I liked writing fiction so I wanted to make it more of a business enterprise. I contacted two different authors-turned-publishers because they most demonstrated what I wanted to achieve.

Both of them were incredibly successful. One of them makes high six figures a year with his publishing company, and another makes seven figures a year with their publishing company.

One of them told me to write mass-market books, sell them for £0.99 and put them all in Kindle Unlimited.

The other told me to set all my books at $10 for the e-book and price my paperback as though I were a major publisher. He said to go wide and sell on as many different platforms as possible.

Now both of these guys were and still are highly successful. Both of them use the methods they talk about and both of them were giving me honest advice as they saw it.

But they were both contradictory.

Advice For You

Regular readers will know which path I took and that’s not important for this conversation. What is important is how I tested this out, and this is why I tell you that before you think about taking any advice, you should be building your own business and knowledge of the subject you are experimenting in.

Because I tested both methods. I already knew how to publish a book. I’d already published books. So I created one pen name and went the Kindle unlimited route, and another pen name and went the wide route.

I could only do this because I had experience myself and I could test not only which method I should be using, but I could find answers that took into account my particular strengths and weaknesses.

Any expert will give you their honest advice. But that advice is advice that has worked for them and might not work for you.

So to finish, there are three steps to understanding and using writing critique advice:

  1. get yourself started on the journey. Start writing, start creating products, start finishing work.
  2. That anyone who gives you writing critique advice. If they know what they’re talking about, then great, if they are an amateur and don’t know what they’re talking about, then ask yourself why you’re taking advice from them?
  3. If two experts tell you differently, then understand that that’s because it’s their experience and it might not match yours or other advice given. Ultimately, the responsibility to get it right lies with you and not your mentor. You do this by testing their advice against your own work.

This is the most complete answer I can give, and if you do this, then you will build a strong internal compass for what is likely to work and what isn’t.