Critiques are a literary "bread of life" to some writers. Others shudder at the thought of allowing another author to rip/tear/shred at their carefully chosen words.
Here's my take on the subject. A solid critique can mean the difference in having a manuscript (which may never be seen by anyone other than the writer and the editors who reject it) or a novel (which makes the journey from writer to critique partner to writer to editor - and then into print and available to readers).
I'm not here to laud the value of a critique. If your mind is made up to hate them, I doubt I could change it anyway. So this article is for those of you who, like me, wouldn't dare send a manuscript out without your critique partner - or better yet, partners - having seen it first.
I'll talk about giving constructive criticism. Since I'm certainly not the reigning guru, you can take or toss anything I say - just as I hope you would do if I critiqued your manuscript. Because that's the whole idea, isn't it? Get someone else's take on your work. She'll watch for typos and misspellings, sentences that don't flow well, and inconsistencies (like your hero having blue eyes in one chapter and brown in another). She'll also make suggestions she thinks will improve your words. The thing to remember with a critique is that, just because your crit partner makes a suggestion does not mean you must use it. It's a suggestion. Something to consider. That's all.
(That's the extent of what I'll say about receiving a critique.)
All that said, critiques can hurt. I've been there. So, while it's important to be honest (otherwise, what's the point?), it's also important to be nice. Making the writer feel unspeakably stupid should not be your goal.
And please, please...when you read something you do like, say so! It's like salve on an open wound to get that little nugget of praise in the middle of a chapter that's bleeding red crit marks. It can mean the difference in leaving your critique recipient sobbing in defeat or rejuvenated and raring to do another rewrite.
Seriously, isn't that what it's all about?
Not every criticism can be followed by a compliment, but when possible, by all means, do it! (Ever had your eyebrows or upper lip waxed? The sweet girl who does mine follows each painful rip of skin and hair with the firm pressure of her fingertips. It doesn't replace the missing skin, but it sure helps relieve the sting. I try to always remember that a critique is much like the removal of unsightly facial hair. Each time I deliver a criticism to some author's literary darling, I've ripped away 'skin and hair' and left her hurting. If I can find something to compliment, it eases the pain. Why wouldn't I want to do that?)
I use yellow highlights to indicate repetition of any word (or form of the same word) in close proximity. Without my having to voice a single criticism, my critique partners know what they mean: You should probably rephrase, and avoid overuse of this word.
As the one on the giving end of the critique, it's important to remember that you're not there to rewrite the book. Let that author keep her voice and style. Your task is to watch for several things in particular, including (but certainly not limited to):
 Incorrect grammar
 Kinks in the flow of the storyline
 Repetitive words
 Weasel words
 Timeline issues
 Anything else that seems "iffy" or makes you backtrack/re-read.
What is most helpful to you in a critique? Or do you simply shy away from them? If so, perhaps you should think about why you do that. I believe you'll find your reasons for keeping your manuscript under lock and key will not be as important or as valuable as the insight you'll gain by letting other eyes peek at your baby's face.
Delia Latham lives in California with her husband and a spoiled Pomeranian. She writes inspirational romance and women's fiction, and loves hearing from her readers.
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