Skip to main content

Critiquing - when does it stop?

I have a critique up on a forum this week. (Actually I have two.) I also have a regular writing group I've rejoined after a few months off and several beta readers. I have no intention to give any of them up (although I put less up in public now and mostly inflict my early drafts on my writing group.)

But, hold on. I have five novels either out, or far enough along the path to be with their editor. I've had numerous short stories published. Why on Earth would I still need a critique? To answer that, I wanted to explore the various stages of critiquing.


When I first started posting critiques (the poor, poor, long suffering, some five years ago, I didn't have much of a clue about writing. I thought I did but in the first critique it became clear I had a long way to go.

In fact, to entertain and amuse - here it is.

Quite apart from showing up my hideous possessive apostrophe knowledge, and my ambition to do a Terry Goodkind, it's full of so many story errors. Pov lapses, info-dumping, some seriously clunky prose. On balance, the critters were pretty kind to me, I felt.

And thus began my critiquing experience. I have to say, I jumped into it, mostly embracing what I was told. But I also took it far too much to heart from time to time and had a hideous habit of changing everything suggested.


After a few months on crits, I moved onto beta readers. The first ones are still (mostly) talking to me, which is a small miracle.

In this case, they looked at the whole novel. New things got thrown up - my complete aversion to all things description. The extraordinary inability to put anything vaguely sf in my sf book (apart from sexy space pilots). Plot development. Plot holes. Oh, lord, the plot holes.

But, also, some comments to grow from. My dialogue was good, and my characters (quelle surprise, given how I've developed.) My voice was already quite strong. There was hope!

Around this point, I was invited to join a small writing group and they were, and remain, the bedrock of my critiquing partnerships. There, we work on small pieces of a whole. We ask questions. It is a thoughtful, developmentally focused group and I learned absolutely loads - and continue to do so.

So far, so good. But why now, six years on and my million words in? For various reasons:

1. I am too close to the work. I can't tell if I've missed out context, or if it's hooky. I can't tell if you like the characters. Some writers are happy to work alone - I'm not. I like other eyes on it to let me know if I'm getting to where I need to.

2. Extra perspective. So many of my light-bulb moments, especially plot-wise, come from conversations with others. A few years ago I was stalled with Waters and the Wild and one of my betas told me about a medical term called Folie-a-deux over lunch. That moved me past where I was - even though it didn't become an integral part of the plot. I don't work well in a vacuum. I need someone to bounce things off.

3. Polish. I do now put up short work unedited, to a reasonable polish. But it will have had at least one beta-read during the run up to it. That beta read picks out the clunky sentences and the bits that confuse. It's a high-level readthrough but, in the absence of a proofreader, very, very welcome.

I can't see myself getting to a place where I wouldn't want to be critiqued. It's not about confidence anymore. In fact, I'll often ignore comments if I already know why I wrote something as I did, and what it achieves, or even if I just like a line and others don't. It's about the creative process and the role of critiquing within that.

Simply, for me, I write better when I'm not in a vacuum. And, as ever, in writing, it's about whatever works for you.