Critiquing For Other Writers

Editing is hard. It’s even harder when you don’t know how to edit or what to look for when editing.

It’s especially even harder still when you’re editing someone else’s work. And when you believe that someone is a better writer than you? Well, how can you edit their work confidently?

Critiquing For Other Writers

I’ve talked about editing all month long with various tips and tricks and advice on editing. This post isn’t going to be like that. Instead, it’s going to be more like a “pep talk,” if you will.

Yesterday I talked about why I think it’s important for writers to be part of some sort of writing or critique group. I’ve had my group for over two years now. People have come and gone in the group, but it’s still going strong and I hope to have my group for many, many years.

Yet, each month I take a look at all the chapters I have to read through. I typically read the work as a reader and then I go back and read it again as a writer. It helps me get a feel for the chapter. It also helps me focus on editing rather than just reading.

This is because I believe all my group members are better writers than me.

This could be for a number of reasons:

  • As a writer, I naturally suffer from self-doubt so I believe everyone is a better writer than me
  • I’m the youngest, so in terms of “experience” in writing, everyone has more than me
  • They may actually be better writers than me

I like to think that no writer is better than another since we all have our own writing styles and people are going to either love, like, hate, or think your writing is just okay. Everyone has different tastes.

Still, when you’re in a group with other writers, you can’t help but think they’re all better than you.

When I read their work, I read through it a few times. I find myself getting immersed in the story, getting wrapped up in the plot and characters. Before I know it, the chapter has ended, I’m eager to read more, yet I haven’t made a single mark on the page.

How can I edit something that’s so good? How can I make corrections when there are none?

Typically, there are mistakes. There are parts of the chapters that could use some help. But I have a hard time seeing them.

It isn’t until we actually meet that the host asks, “What could be improved with this chapter?” I typically wait for someone else to speak first and bounce off from what they say. I wait for someone to say, “I didn’t like this,” and then I can think about myself. Sometimes I agree, but sometimes I can disagree and form my own opinion as to why.

But why can’t I look at it that way when I’m reading the story myself?

I don’t know.

Editing is a learning curve and I definitely find it harder to critique someone else than your own work. Still, you live and learn.

With each new piece I get, I think back to the previous meeting and look for what we discussed they could improve on and see if they did improve on the next one. I’m slowly figuring it out.

It’s hard to look past the feeling that all the other writers in the room are “better” than you. You just have to remember you’re all there to learn. Everyone has their own writing style and unique voice. You’re all writing different stories and possibly different genres. Someone may have been writing longer than you have, but you’re all in the same boat.

Have you ever got the feeling that everyone else is a better writer than you? How do you deal with it? Let me know in the comments below!

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23 thoughts on “Critiquing For Other Writers

  1. Trust me Rachel, you will get to the point where you feel nobody is giving you valid feedback anymore. It won’t be because they can’t be bothered or there is nothing to give, it will be because your writing has improved to a point where they can’t find much to comment on. When this happens that feeling will disappear.

  2. When I first started critiquing, I found myself focusing on grammar and word choice problems, because those were what jumped out at me. I’ve been lucky to learn from one particular fabulous critique partner to step back and ask the bigger questions, and it makes all the difference. So often, a chapter or story seems to flow perfectly fine from beginning to end, but when you really look at it, it’s not saying much. So I ask myself things like, what’s the arc of the chapter – how is the situation crucially different at the end than it was at the beginning? What does the chapter accomplish / how does it send the arc to a new place? What do we learn about the characters and their situation? Is this consistent with how the characters have acted in the past? Are there places in the text where it feels too slow or repetitive? Is there enough description of what’s happening and the setting, or too much? Does it answer questions without posing new ones? (There should always be unanswered questions!) And most importantly, is there anything that could be cut without affecting the overall story?

  3. Oops – meant to add: I don’t think it’s a matter of which writers are “better” than others. Someone can write excellent prose and yet still not see the gaping plot hole or logical problems in their story that might be more apparent to their critique partners.

    • Yes, I have a list of questions like that. Some are easier to answer than others, I think. And yeah, everyone has their own writing style. No one is “better” than the other, but sometimes it does feel like that, lol.

      • Well to clarify, I do think that some people are better writers than others (although you’re right, that doesn’t necessarily mean the same style will appeal to everyone). What I meant was that being a better writer doesn’t necessarily make you good at giving critiques, and even if you’re the “not so better” writer, you might still be better at giving critiques.

  4. Everyone brings something to the table at a critique group. There are four in my group and we have been meeting for 5 years now. Everyone finds different things and focuses on different aspects of the writing. No one is better than the others. One person will catch something very important, that everyone else missed. We always laugh about that. Without this group, I would not have completed and published five books. Be happy you have these writers on your side and you on theirs!!

  5. Hi Rachel,
    Self confidence is a stumbling block for all novice writers. Even all the years I have written as a financial professional, when I started writing blogs and my book, I felt inferior. Everyone says it and I will repeat it. Write, write and write. I learn from the blogs I follow, but I especially learn from the experience of my own writing. Don’t stop writing. Hugs.

    • Thank you. I definitely won’t stop writing! I don’t feel discouraged by it, but I do wish I didn’t feel that way, lol.

  6. Am going to try peer critiquing for the first time this summer. I’ve not used it before because about all other students say is, “I liked it,” or “It stinks.” Does anyone have any suggestions?

    • I know what you mean! When I was in school, my classmates would do the same thing. My professors would give us a list of questions to look out for. Some would have us answer all of them and others would have us answer just a few if the list was long.
      I posted a list of 57 questions to ask when editing the other day, if you want to use that for inspiration.

  7. Critique groups have been so essential to my development as a writer and have taught me how to look at other writers’ work critically. I’ve been in the same group since 2009, but only two of us are the same – we’ve had people come and go, which has kept the eyes fresh. I’m the only person remaining of the original group in my other critique group – people also come and go. We were just remarking this morning that when you’ve been with the same group for a long time, you tend to let things slide…

    • That’s great that you’ve been with your group for so long. But yeah, people do come and go. We’ve had a few members leave, but new ones have joined. We actually now have a new host (well, “new” for a few months now) and he’s brought a lot to our attention, which is great.

  8. I had a friend of mine beg to read my book. I told her it was unedited and a first draft. She still insisted, so I grudgingly let her read it even though I knew it was also not a genre that she reads nor would she enjoy. As I predicted she gave me unasked for critique and it was way off its mark. Including telling me that I gave no character description. I replied to read page 2. She of course made comments about grammatical errors and other edits that needed to be made. My favorite was when she told me how a specific character would act. Needless to say this upset me and got me worried about constructive criticism and how I would take it but I have found that I am taking actual constructive criticism very well and I appreciate it.

    • Yeah, she’s just trying to help. She just doesn’t fully understand it, lol. But when that happens you just kind of have to shrug it off and be like, “Thanks for taking the time to read it” or something like that.
      One thing I’ve learned, from any comments like that, is to not get defensive about your work.
      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

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