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Monday, August 03, 2009

Sifting Through Writing Critiques

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

Last Monday I talked about how I incorporate edits before I send out my manuscripts to my critique partners. Through all your comments it was interesting to see how so many people work differently.

Today I want to talk about my method of sifting through all the critiques I receive. It's hard not to feel overwhelmed when you have a number of critiques or lots of feedback from several contests with so many different comments and thoughts. How do you know which ones to go by?

If you go ahead and make changes from one or two critiques, by the the time you get to the third, fourth or fifth critique, you may not be able to find the same phrases or sentences or paragraphs that were commented on because you might have made so many changes from critique one and two. Guess what? I've found a method that works for me, and I hope it might help you too if you are still struggling with this.

Unlike my personal edits, I incorporate all my critique comments on the computer. I open up my original manuscript or a copy of it to the beginning of the chapter that I've received critiques on. Then I open up every critique I've received to the beginning of that same chapter and minimize each one. I compare all the comments and suggestions one paragraph or a couple of paragraphs at a time by maximizing each critique as I get to it. This allows me to view my work from a broad perspective the way others see it.

If everyone seems to be saying the same thing or similar things about a section, I know I need to make changes to that paragraph. I'll choose the best suggestions that resonates with me, or I may go back to that section in my document, reread it and rewrite it with those suggestions in mind. If I feel it needs significant rewrites, I'll pray about it first and then start rewriting.

I'm amazed that only one person might catch something out of 6-8 people, but it happens, and I'm so thankful. Sometimes I receive comments about something that only one person seems to be nitpicking about. If none of my other critique partners are picking out the same thing, and if I don't agree, I ignore that person's suggestions.

The great thing about working with critique partners over feedback from a contest is that you get to know them, their quirks, and where they are in their own writing by critiquing their work. Writing experience is very important when working with a critique partner. You need to work with people who have strengths and weaknesses that are opposite yours so that you can benefit them and they can benefit from you. As you grow and develop, you are going to outgrow critique partners and need to move on to other critique groups or partners. I say this because we all go through seasons.

You may find that a particular person keeps making the same suggestions over and over, but they never find the mistakes that others are finding. If this happens, pay attention to what that individual keeps missing. It may be that he/she hasn't developed enough in their own writing. He/she may not feel confident enough to comment on certain things. If this is the case, you may not want to consider their comments as heavily as the others. I say this because bad advice on a manuscript can be worse than no advice.

Inexperienced writers go to workshops and hear this and that and then they start making changes all over their manuscript without judging the context of what was said. They don't know when to incorporate the advice they've heard and when to not incorporate it. As a result, they do the same thing, unknowingly, to their critique partners. Learning doesn't happen over night. Learning is a process and so is learning what critique comments to incorporate and which ones should be ignored.

Pay attention to how a person critiques. Some people will make suggestions and comments and they rarely make actual changes to your document. Others will try to reword everything you write. When this happens read the sentence you've written aloud to yourself. Then read what they've rewritten aloud. Which one sounds better? Go with the one that sounds best. Make sure you don't rewrite your manuscript to sound like someone else. You have to learn balance.

Going paragraph by paragraph with 6-8 critiques can take a while. If you get interrupted and you have to stop in the middle, highlight the paragraph where you are in a particular color so you'll be able to scroll through the chapter and quickly find your place again. When you have time to finish, open up all the documents and use the search and find feature by typing in the first few words of the paragraph where you stopped.

I hope this gives you some ideas. Let me know if you have any questions. I'll answer them as best I can in the comment section.


This was such good information Jennifer. I am now in a new critique group and I find each of them focuses on different things. It can be difficult to know what to change. I've found that one writer writes much like I do in style and I put more weight on her comments.

I have not been involved in a critique group in years, but I do have a handful of partners that I always hand my manuscripts over to for brutal editing. It makes all the difference to see how a reader views my story. I always take their advice into consideration and, more often than not, I edit my story in favor of their suggestions.


Great tips! I always just printed the whole thing out and incorporated the suggestions into one hard copy but this is an even better idea.

Great minds, as they say . . . this is how I do it, too. Everything in one broad sweep, where I can compare the comments.

After a few people dropped out, a few different ones joined, they dropped out, and then others joined my crit group, we finally have a very well-balanced partnership. We've worked together going on two years now, so it's great to have the relationships to draw on. I know what to expect from them, how to take each comment. Invaluable!


When critique partners concentrate on specific things, I think that is just their strengths shining through.


I have a few friends who I swap chapters with once in a while. That's always helpful, especially after I've revised a manuscript after my critique group has seen it and I need a fresh pair of eyes.


I'm glad you found some suggestions helpful. Maybe it can help you save time as well. Time is always a problem for me.


I hope this new critique group I've started works out for me. The others have fallen to the side or fell apart, mostly do to schedules I think.

That's pretty much how I do it. When everyone points out the same thing, I know it needs to be changed. The rest I pick and choose what I like.