What to Expect from a Critique

After a lovely week of talking about other authors, I thought it was time to come back to talking a bit about…you! This post is modified from a downloadable PDF (of the same title) available at my Critiquing tab above, that I wrote for writers who are considering hiring me for a professional critique. I think a lot of it’s true, though, for anyone getting critique feedback, especially if it’s a new experience. So enjoy and, remember, it’s worth the risk! (And thanks to Jordan Rosenfeld for the suggestion!)

If you have never been critiqued, you may not be completely prepared for the kind of feedback another writer can give you, or for the feelings their suggestions may cause in you. If you have experience being critiqued, receiving feedback from other writers, you are probably familiar with some of the feelings a critique can engender. You feel great when your critique partners tell you what you’ve done well, and you feel not-so-great when they point out what’s not yet working. Hopefully, you haven’t received a critique that made you feel hurt, or that made you wonder whether you should be writing.

You should.

You should also, though, be revising. And one of the best ways to do that, if not always the easiest, is to receive strong feedback from a critiquer.

When you receive a critique, you are hopefully getting a thorough, detailed set of feedback. This may include a page or more of overall comments, suggestions about the big elements of writing—things like plot and characterization in fiction, organization and voice in nonfiction. The critiquer may also make notes throughout the manuscript, pointing out specific places where they think you can do more work, passages they think illustrate the suggestions they’ve made in their overall critique, and—of course—any writing that they love.

When you look at these pages, you’re going to see a lot of comments. (This may be where that fear of red ink comes from!)Even if, logically, you know all those comments are there to help you, you may still feel overwhelmed. Sometimes very overwhelmed.

Try to remember a few things.

You are not the only person to ever have their work marked up this way. It happens to most writers. It happens to me all the time! You are allowed to start slowly. Take it a chapter at a time, work with the small changes you can say “yes” or “no” to, and let the other, bigger comments simmer in your brain as you work.

You don’t have to make all the changes at once. When I’m revising from a critique, I find it most helpful to pick one or two big things to work through in one revision, following the thread of changes through each scene, and watching how my story grows and improves as I work.

You are the author of this manuscript. I happily give you permission, here and now, to decide against putting in any of the suggested changes that you’re not happy with. (I also ask you, if the critiquer make a big point about something multiple times through the pages, to take a second look at those comments before making that decision. ☺)

You can do this. We send our words out with high expectations, and higher hopes. We know, in general terms, that we have more work to do, but—often—we don’t know or recognize, how much work that will be. Take your time. Be patient with yourself, and allow yourself to grow your writing along with your project. Every revision you do of your manuscript will bring it that much closer to being the book you want it to be.

Finally, remember that your critique partner is not (usually!) going to disappear after they send you the critique. They’re available  for questions—don’t hesitate to email them if you don’t understand something they’ve written, or if you’re feeling confused about where to go with the critique. They’re in your group because they want to help—ask for that help when you need it.


  1. deepercolors says:

    Beautifully said. Thanks.


  2. Mark Barrett says:

    I don’t disagree with anything you say here. It’s a good introduction, and particularly so because you guard against giving the reviewer authority. Every writer will define themselves by their ability to listen to and sift responses. And of course that’s one of the benefits of a workshop: you can have confidence that issues that affected the majority are substantive simply because of the number of people agreeing on a point.

    The one thing I might add here is that over my writing life I’ve de-emphasized the formality of the critiquing process to the point that I no longer even use that word. Why? Because the word is both formal and critical, and I find that both of those aspects of the reviewing process tend to goad the reviewer into responding as a critical authority.

    When I respond to something, or offer to respond, I simply promise feedback. It’s a useful descriptor that imposes no weight of responsibility or attitude on the process. Too, because all feedback is useful, it allows for anyone to contribute — and there is always a shortage of readers. (To say nothing of trusted readers.)


  3. Vivian says:

    Well said, Becky!


  4. JM Reinbold says:

    “Every revision you do of your manuscript will bring it that much closer to being the book you want it to be.”

    This is so important. When we review a manuscript in our group, The Written Remains, I always encourage the author to re-submit the story or chapter after they have revised. Unfortunately, we rarely see the pieces again. I wish there was a way to change this. I think one reason is folks think others will tire of reading the same piece over and over again.


    • beckylevine says:

      I think that’s exactly it, but I think that’s a fear that can be dispelled. I think there’s value to both authors & critiquers from going through multiple revisions. And, boy, do I need it, especially when I’m the author!


  5. Great post, Becky! I think you’ve given some fabulous advice. It’s so good I’m going to tweet about it! 🙂


    p.s. Thank you for stopping by my blog, too!


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