This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

Monday, April 07, 2008

Judging & Critiquing Improves Editing Skills

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor 

Most writers enter their manuscripts in contests and submit to critique groups hoping to receive valuable feedback. They need someone who hasn’t already seen the manuscript to give them a fresh perspective.

Authors read their own manuscripts so many times that they lose that critical eye for detail. Something in our subconscious mind says, “I’ve read this a thousand times. There can’t possibly be anything wrong with it.” Yet, we get that same manuscript back and things are marked that we missed. And all we can do is stare at it and ask ourselves, “How on earth did I miss this?”

Those of us who rely on critique partners may feel a slight panic when we get one of those requests or short deadlines that won’t give us time to send it to a critique partner. Relying on others is necessary, but not to the point that it diminishes your self-confidence in your own work.

So how can you improve your editing skills and your critical eye for detail? My answer is don’t just enter contests as a contestant for feedback, but volunteer to judge. Don’t just join a critique group to be critiqued, but join to critique others. Every manuscript you critique or judge improves your editing skills with practice.

You may be thinking, “But I don’t have a lot of free time. Any work I do should be spent on my own manuscripts. Can’t that count for practice?” The answer to this is the same as why you need a fresh pair of eyes to catch mistakes in your manuscript that you can’t catch. You will see mistakes in other writing that you may not see in your own. But once you get in the habit of identifying writing mistakes in other manuscripts, the habit will transfer to your own writing when you go back to edit it.

I wrote for several years before I joined my first critique group. I knew most of the writing rules and I still missed instances in my writing where I broke these rules. But if reading someone’s manuscript, I could easily catch backstory in the first chapter, unnecessary taglines in dialogue, reaction before action, wordy sentences that needed to be tight, too many ‘was’ and ‘ing’ verbs, characters behaving out of character, etc.

After a year in this critique group, the critical eye for detail I’d developed when reading other manuscripts began to naturally flow over when editing my own manuscripts. If you haven’t joined a critique group, I urge you to consider it. On the other hand, if you were or are in a critique group and this wasn’t your experience, consider approaching it with a new attitude with this concept in mind. Also, it may be time to try a new critique group. Sometimes we outgrow where we are and change is necessary to keep growing.

One thing is certain. Judging and critiquing other manuscripts improves one’s editing skills and helps to develop a more critical eye for detail.


Maybe reading this will help me as I get to judge some books in a contest. I am a reader - not a writer - maybe someday but right now just enjoying all the new writers I found this year. God Bless.

You're right. Critiquing definitely helps me grow as a writer. I don't mind doing it either, but it's nicer if I'm critting for people who I've worked with for a while because then I am more inclined to be able to say ok I know where you're going with this, and it's not working. WHen I'm not familiar with the writer it's harder to know exactly what they're trying to say if it's not written well. And like you, I'm always amazed at the things I miss even when I've read something a bazillion times! It's frustrating, but that's what editors are for, right?? Yep. One day...

I love judging contests for that reason. We grow so much as writers. One place is has been very beneficial is the synopsis.
Thanks for this post. It is really right on.