One of the most useful things we can get as a writer is a good critique. It helps us grow by showing us how we can perfect our craft. On the other hand, a bad critique can leave us feeling frustrated and angry. So what can you do as a writer in order to ensure that you get an insightful and helpful critique? Obviously (or at least I hope it’s obvious), you start with good writing. Good writing may get a bad critiques sometimes, but bad writing will get bad critiques all the time (except usually from family and maybe some friends).

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of getting good critiques, I should take a moment to specify what I consider the difference between a critique and a review. While researching this article, I found several websites that used the terms interchangeably, and I don’t want to confuse anyone. To me, a review is when someone you (usually) don’t know, or don’t know well, takes time to read your finished work and tells you and the world what they think is good and bad about it. While there are ways to help your chance of getting a good review, I believe that the primary reason should be good writing. On the other hand, a critique is all about an unfinished draft. It could be the first draft or the last draft, but either way you are trying to get feedback so that you can improve your writing if possible, before you send it out to be reviewed. Both give you feedback, but the critique is to help you edit and perfect your writing aim, and the review is more of a report to help you with your next project.

Good critiques in my mind center around getting usable and detailed information from your audience. I’m sure we have all been in the situation where you hand your masterpiece to a friend or family member expecting honest feedback and helpful insights, but all they give you is “It’s good. I like it.” You are glad they like it, but you wanted something more. They may even want to give you more. They are your friends after all, they probably really want to help you. They just don’t know how. It’s not their fault. They can’t help it at this point. Even when they try to help they are usually just confusing, or frustrating, or annoying, etc. etc. etc.

The best way I have found to get good critiques is to tell your audience what you want. Be specific. Try to steer away from abstract language and “yes or no” questions. Ask questions that will make them want to answer you in detail. The second thing you should try is a typed up form that they can write on while they read. Especially if it is a long story. People will start to forget details as they read through, so being able to jot down a note or two will help you get more accurate feedback.

Allow enough time for a good critique. Not everyone is a fast reader. Not everyone wants, or is able, to give a good critique after one read through. Give the person a copy of your work and a copy of they critique sheet and let them take it home for a couple of days. They will probably be able to be more honest if you aren’t hovering over them as well.

In Part Two I will actually break down what you might want to ask in order to get a good critique that you understand and can learn from.