How to Critique Writing

Something I’ve noticed about the small crowd of writers that I’ve met, is that they hardly find time to read anything other than literature. What I mean is that the normal person will read that World of Warcraft book or that new space exploration book being made into a movie, but the person who considers himself a writer will only read the fields he concerns himself with. Like for instance it’s natural for a literature writer to only read literature, or for a science fiction writer to read mostly science fiction.

But the major downside to this is that they’re isolating themselves from learning to look at things a new way; this goes for everybody. If I had stuck to what I knew five years ago, I would only be reading books about WWII and video games but I branched out. I started to read literature, science fiction, and nonfiction, really anything I could find. And as a writer and as a person that made all the difference.

Now directly towards the writers. You can read as much as you want and from all different genres but you aren’t getting the most out of it. You have to consider that what you are reading is the final draft of a text that could have been edited for hundreds of hours. It was so meticulously created that it does help to study it, but you also need to study the raw form of the text as well.

The best way to do this is to find other people’s writing that are looking to be critiqued. There’s resources all over the internet of this, and even in the community with writing groups. What you find with critiquing writing is that you learn to look for inconsistencies and pieces of the text that just don’t work together. Then after learning this school it transfers over to editing your own writing and searching for the same things. In the beginning it’s easier to dissect another person’s writing and then use those skills on their own.

So you finally you find a piece that you’re ready to sit down and critique, what do you look for? There are a few features you need to look at when critiquing:

  • Minor Mistakes. This is things like grammatical issues, spelling mistakes, maybe some formatting issues. Things that can be easily fixed.
  • Fluency. Look for how well the text flows. Look for words that are out of place, choppy sentences, things that can be cut, superfluous sentences, things that could have been overlooked by the writer. This is mostly things concerning style. I’ve noticed this is what most writers look for when having a piece critiqued.
  • Story. Find parts of the story that don’t work together, characters that aren’t believable, scenes that are a little too long or two short, things like that.

Usually when critiquing a piece of writing it’s courteous to offer a suggestion of how to fix it but of course it’s always the author’s decision what to do. You can already begin to see how scrutinizing someone’s writing for those criteria will help you do the same for your own.

There’s also two types of critiquing done. Line by Line, and just general. Line by line suggests that you will go line by line in the story and make a comment about each sentence, improvements that could be made, good and bad and all that. This takes much more time but is more thorough. The other is general, this focuses on the more big picture aspect of it. This is more quick and to the point but also loses a good amount of the small details that need fixing.

The last important detail about this art is to find pieces outside of your comfort area to read and experiment with. The point is to expand your range and to better understand how all types of writing work. A few good resources to critiquing is on Reddit and a few subreddits, which I always recommend, and finding groups on craigslist, newspapers, flyers or different places in the community for creative writing groups. If you’re out in the country it may be difficult but if you’re in a larger city there’s most likely one nearby. And it’s just good etiquette always critique someone else’s writing if you’re looking for a critique of your own.

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40 thoughts on “How to Critique Writing

  1. I’ve been trying to expand my reading. You had a lot of good points in here. Do you know of any good critiquing sites or resources? I’m going to be looking for some critiques in the next few months, and I think that taking a look at other raw writing will help me in this process.

    Liked by 3 people

    • r/ Writing has a weekly critique board that is often very helpful with this, you have to make an account to sign up to post anything but not to view. They also deal with other interesting parts of writing.
      https://www.reddit.com/r/writing/

      There are also website like Wattpad that are dedicated to indie writers publishing their work. Since none of it is professional and most of it doesn’t have a professional editor that would be a good place to read more raw writing, however people aren’t looking for critiques on there.
      https://www.wattpad.com/signup

      I’ve also heard some really good things about Scribophile, but I haven’t personally used it. From what I know it’s one of the bigger critique websites out there, you also need to sign up for an account.
      http://www.scribophile.com/

      Best of luck with you’re writing!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I hope that once I get around to writing my own book that I still have the time and desire to read books outside of my realm. (Btw, I wouldn’t normally read space exploration-type novels but my friend kept pushing The Martian… and I loved it!) My interests are pretty eclectic, so I definitely struggle with focus.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I very much liked your article and I do agree with you that the more-rounded writer is someone who should have many reading interests and that will help improve their skills, as well as themselves. Could I offer a suggestion concerning the title of your article? I believe it should be “How to Critique Writing” rather than “Why to Critique Writing”. Using “why to” is not grammatically correct. If you still wanted to include “why’ in your title, perhaps Why Critiquing Writing is Important” would be better.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Caitlin Moran, one of my favourite authors, once spoke about how it’s better to get books at your local library than through shopping online or offline. With the the former, you can find so much material that you might not have considered ever looking for, which can help you to branch out. Good post =)

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  5. You’ve offered some rock-solid suggestions. Branching out, reading more widely is difficult for me. Thanks for bringing this to us.

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  6. I found that when I’m working on something, I tend to read only non-fiction that relates to the craft of writing. At the moment, about halfway done with “On Writing” by Stephen King. But in the bouts of idleness that fall upon any writer, I whet my pallet with books from all genres.

    There was a point where I couldn’t find myself to read fiction. I love a good story, and I’m a fanboy for solid prose, but fiction seemed like a waste of time. I’ve only a short time on this spinning rock, and every minute should be spent learning something new. Then, I realized something: good fiction is more than entertainment. It’s active philosophy, where you see the character’s (or author’s) perspective draped in a solid tale.

    I won a fiction award during this time. One of the prizes was a book of your choice. The presenter recommended be a good fiction book, because it reminded her of my work. I chose a dictionary.

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  7. Some very good points in here. My problem at the moment is that I read a lot but I’m struggling to narrow down the kind of world I want my story to take place in. So I suppose reading too widely also be negative

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  8. @writeforthemasses I have done that for a book of one of my friends.
    Did find a few mistakes and now my friend is trying to fix it and the book is on hold at wattpad.
    Could you suggest me some ways to implement some words from my vocabulary in my writings?
    It’s not that I don’t know words it’s just that sometimes I am unable to use them in my writings.
    I haven’t really posted much stuff but I have posted some stuff that just came to my mind when I was bored.
    I’d really appreciate it if you could check out my blog and give me some opinions or recommendations on how to improve my writing.

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    • One helpful method I’ve started using is to think of the words beforehand. For instance think about one word that fits with the topic you’re writing about, and look that word up in the thesaurus. Pick out the words you know, make sure not to use the words you are unfamiliar with. Now imagine what you are going to say and assign which words describe that best and use those in your writing. So if I wanted to describe a depressed character I could talk about his sullen walk, or his detached manner, or his disillusioned attitude. All coming up with those words using the thesaurus; using it more as a reminder to use them. I hope this helped just a little bit, if not I could try and clarify.

      Best of luck to you and your ventures.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. @writeforthemasses I’ve got a nice idea.
    Maybe we could create a blog for a few of the writers out there and every once in a while a person could post his/her writings on the blog.
    That way we get various kinds of genres and we could all promote it.
    What do you say?
    I can promote it on facebook too as I’ve got some pages with many likes.

    Like

    • I’ve toying with the idea for a good while now, and the only reason I’ve decided not too is because the market is overcrowded right now. Most journals are struggling to keep it up as it is, and a small independent journal has nothing more to offer than the larger ones. I think it would be a great experience, but almost impossible to get off the ground.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. An insightful article. Though with the claim that it’s natural for lit writers to only read lit is 1. too indulgent of the label ‘literature’ and 2. too forgiving of writers. A person who doesn’t read the news, be it political, scientific, environmental, or whatever, who doesn’t keep up with what the world’s doing, is going to write his or herself into a boring bubble of banality. We have to read widely to keep fresh!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Very good information. I have four blogs with different niches so I get some variety in what I am reading and try to critique when I can. Most of these are shorter, blog length or poetry reviews on All Poetry and can be more easily critiqued. Thanks for the suggestions. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great information! Even Lewis and Tolkien critiqued each other’s work. Who knows whether they learned more by the act of critiquing or from the criticism they received? I find writer’s conferences are also helpful, especially when they are interactive. Sometimes hearing specific examples of what not to do can be as beneficial as reading excerpts from great literature. But, I do love to read almost all genres! What type of novel are you writing?

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  13. First, thanks for liking my latest posting `Donald Trump – Whack Job?’, much appreciated.

    In reading this posting of your’s I couldn’t help but think; providing instruction on such matters a writing from a critiquing perspective, one need be very careful that the potential errors, failings, etc., do not appear within the article itself. Somewhat a matter of `doing what I say but not as I do’ concept. As to studying by way of reading the writing of others personally, I shy away from that approach. There is no doubt about reading a variety of genre from literature to the daily News to broaden one’s appreciation for a worldly perspective but, I don’t believe these should be replicated in one’s own writing (if that makes any sense??). This type of input should help inform a perspective but not necessarily shape it in what is creatively written. And too, in response to one commenter’s query: `Could you suggest me some ways to implement some words from my vocabulary in my writings?’ I suggest that `words’ do not direct the conversation they create the conversation.

    Thanks again for your constructive blog and its followers.

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  14. I’d be careful about getting writing advice or critique from Reddit. If the person critiquing is a professional (i.e. paid for his work), by all means listen.

    I find it better to start over and throw out a bad story rather than ‘polish’ and mess with the words. That’s all secondary to the content of the story. But every writer is different, so what works for one might not work for another.

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  15. It’s also helpful to have a life outside of reading and writing. Meeting different people and doing different things cause you to have real experiences that will add richness to what you write.

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  16. I never fancied myself as a writer, although I would like to have the talent to tell stories like novelists. As you described about others, I do enjoy writing about subjects I enjoy reading. For example, I like to read about politics and science. That’s also what I write about.

    I envy those who can sit down, plan a story, diagram it or story board it, and then write a novel. That kind of writing is beyond me. There are things I would like to write about such as ancestors during the Civil War, or the Revolutinary War, but I would not know where to begin.

    As for proof reading your stuff, I found this little nugget: “this focuses on the more big picture aspect of it. ” How about, “This focuses on the big picture.” The “it” is contextualized in the rest of the paragraph.

    Thanks for dropping by my blog and liking it.

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  17. Several interesting points you’ve made here.

    If I may add, critiquing others’ writing isn’t quite the easiest task — not even for some experienced writers. Yes, the critic may well be able to cross the t’s, dot the i’s (or proofread); however, when asked for an objective view of one’s writing, few are able to offer succinctly stated valuable feedback. e.g., was the writing lucid? Or did it sustain the reader’s interest from the beginning until the end? Was the entire point of the article apparent? Does this occur because summarizing is the hardest part of any writing, likewise, summarizing one’s opinion is also rather difficult. Add to that the fear of offending someone. πŸ˜‰ πŸ™‚

    @writeforthemasses, thank you for stopping by on my blog.

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  18. Very good advice! You make a great argument, but I feel that younger readers (like teens and tweens) tend to read a lot more diverse topics (even if they do count as fictional books). What topics do try to read more often?
    ~Sarah

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