WRITING Critiques: the pros and cons (part 2)


Does receiving a critique on your work turn you into a hamster on a wheel, unable to stop and get off the circle of doom or does it turn you into a bird, making the wind beneath your wings stronger, elevating your work? Four writers discuss the highs and lows of getting feedback on their work.

Cath Jones

Cath Jones


Without critique groups, my new picture book, Slug Love, would definitely not exist. I was a member of Eureka, an online SCBWI crit group for about a year. Being part of a supportive group of writers kept me focussed and motivated. It made me create one new picture book each month for a whole year. I wrote Slug Love and received helpful feedback from the Eureka members. However, I couldn’t get the ending quite right. Some of the crit group loved it, others didn’t! I worked on that text for years but the right ending evaded me. I then had interest from a publisher but they wanted me to change the ending.

Slug Love, published by Maverick Arts 

A couple more years went by and I took Slug Love to another crit group, this time formed from a group of friends who’d met on a creative writing MA. Their questions and the discussion that we had enabled me to look at my text in a completely new way. For the first time, I understood the true essence of the text and what I needed to resolve. Within a week, I had sent a transformed draft to my editor. The reply? “You’ve nailed it.” Without those two crit groups, Slug Love probably wouldn’t have just published in June.


David Richardson


David Richardson

I’ve been in various critique groups, including during my studies with the Open University. I’ve also organised critiques when teaching my creative writing classes. And, I’ve paid professional editors for feedback on my work.


My three tips would be:


  • Always remember that comments from one person on another person’s work are very subjective. It is their opinion. And just because they are happy to give it, doesn’t mean it is absolutely right.
  • Never try to explain the whys and wherefores of your writing or justify it. Just say ‘thank you, that’s really helpful, I’ll give that some thought’ and smile.
  • When giving your work to someone to critique, it can be really helpful to ask for feedback on a particular thing. For example: are the characters convincing? Or, is my writing style too wordy for you? It really helps the critiquer and means you’re getting specific feedback.


When it comes to family and friends (who aren’t writers, but helpful readers), I ask them to put a tick on passages they like and a question mark on any sections which they don’t like or that confuse them. If they want to tell me why – that’s great, but I don’t ask them. It highlights parts that are not working, giving me the opportunity to go back and rewrite them.


Tracy Curran


Tracy Curran

One of the first bits of advice I was given when I started writing seriously in 2017 was ‘join a critique group’. Teaming up with a group of like-minded individuals, who were all equally invested in writing for children, would be, I was told, one of the best things I could possibly do. So, I signed up to SCBWI and found one! Since then, I have joined a wide variety of critique groups, paid for professional critiques, undertaken group mentoring sessions and completed a six-month mentorship programme through the All Stories Mentorship Programme.


Without a doubt, having your work critiqued is a game-changer. Find the right group and they will become friends who will celebrate and commiserate with you (and vice-versa) as you navigate your journey. Making a commitment to post on a regular basis (ie once a month) also helps to keep the focus. I’m still with my original picture book critique group three years down the line, we have a WhatsApp chat group, we’ve met in person and I wouldn’t be without them.


Meeting with a critique group on a regular basis can help you stay focussed

Professional critiques, for me, have a different focus. Whereas critique partners are gentle and kind but often give a range of varying feedback, which can be difficult to navigate, professional critiques can be far more direct and even brutal. However, although there is often a cost attached, you are paying for the advice of someone with experience and knowledge of the publishing industry. I’ve had some brilliant tutoring via professional critiques whereas others have left me close to tears. And while it’s important to remember that their viewpoint is still a subjective one, if the whole point of asking for a critique is because you want honesty so you can then go away and improve your work, it’s worth at least thinking about what they’ve said. There’s no denying, though, that the cost of professional critiques adds up and, as I’m a full-time carer, this sent me searching for other ways I could access critiques.

Being critiqued is something you can choose to engage with or not but at the end of the day, YOU are the writer and YOU need to enjoy the writing process 

The All Stories Mentorship Programme allowed me to work with one editor for six months. Throughout this time, we worked on 3-4 picture book manuscripts, with my mentor giving detailed feedback and me going away to work on it before sending it back. This was an invaluable opportunity as my mentor became invested in my texts and we got to know each other. BUT…it is not an easy process. Having your work constantly dissected can be frustrating, tiring and despairing at times and some weeks I couldn’t bear to look at that text again. But, remember your mentor is objective. They can see things far more clearly than you probably can and they want to get the best out of your text.

Critiques can be difficult to navigate but are ultimately about improving your work

Ultimately though, as invaluable as critiques and critique partners are, this is YOUR work and you have to follow your heart. If their vision isn’t your vision, make a decision and go with what makes you happy. Being critiqued is something you can choose to engage with or not but at the end of the day, YOU are the writer and YOU need to enjoy the writing process, whether that involves critiquing or not.


Jo Verrill


Jo Verill

Knowing how to give and take criticism is the most important step in becoming an author. I am a tighter, and more mindful, writer because of it. However – be warned. The wrong type of criticism, at the wrong time, could send you spinning off in a world of confusion and doubt that stalls your draft. Yes, you will be a more skilled wordsmith, but if nothing gets written what’s the point?


Don’t ask for a line-by-line critique until you’re near final draft stage. Keep the focus on finishing the story and pick up the details later. Ask your group to comment first on the bigger stuff, like characters, themes and the concept. Later, look at structure. You can fiddle about with your filter words until the cows come home, but if your ideas don’t cut it, and it’s clear you have no idea about story beats, then your manuscript is unlikely to get picked up.


There is a time and a place for pickiness — and your manuscript will be better for it — but this comes RIGHT at the end of the process. After the vomit draft, the argh-my-eyes redraft, and the final beating-head-on-desk draft. Fine details are for when you’re about to submit. Otherwise, it’s a bit like painting a pattern on a vase while it’s still on the potter’s wheel.

* Header image and writing photos by Tita Berredo;
author images courtesy of themselves.


Fran Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact: deputyeditor@britishscbwi.org

1 comment:

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