Today’s post was inspired by 4amWriter’s brilliant post on The Power of A Critique.

She got me thinking about my critiquing process, which has evolved out of my self-editing techniques with a heaping of tact.

Before I critique someone’s writing, I always ask what type of critique they want. A general big picture for flow, or nitty-gritty editing of sentence structure and word choices. Then I ask if there are any specific concerns the writer has like the voice/character development/tension/pacing etc. I want to make sure we are on the same page in terms of what they are looking for in a critique partner.

When I get pages from my critique partner, I print them out.

I take my red pen and try to read through all the pages in a couple sittings.

As I read, I make notes on anything that stops me or jars me as a reader. ANYTHING. Sometimes, I’m not sure what wasn’t working but I make a note that something wasn’t adding to my reading experience. I also note what worked in the story (strong opening sentences, great character development, strong voice, great imagery, etc)

On this first read, I try to employ the principles from Margie Lawson’s Deep Editing packet. She provides an actual checklist of everything you should be evaluating as you read.

Then I put the pages aside. In the back of my head, I’m thinking about everything–pacing, character development, flow, etc. But I don’t write anything down. For a day.

Then I come back to the pages the next day and add more notes and try to better articulate my concerns and possible changes to address those issues.

I do this until I have all the pages done.

Then I wait a day.

I open up the Word document and I begin typing in my comments in track changes.

I avoid words like “should.” I try to employ weaker language like “might.”

I do my best to state my concern and then suggest a couple possible fixes. Sometimes I don’t know how to solve my concern. Then I just state the concern and mention I’m not sure how best to address it.

I also make sure I’ve highlighted what is working well.

It can take me 6 hours to type in all my comments because I am re-reading the manuscript as I type in the comments.

The next day, I come back to my comments. I pretend they are about my own manuscript. Then I re-read only the comments. And I try to find anything that could possibly hurt the writer’s feelings and re-word it.

Lastly, I try to write a couple paragraph cover letter to summarize the major points of my feedback. I always use the sandwich method–positive comments, areas of improvement, positive comments.

How do you critique other people’s writing? Do you have a benchmark? A tried and true methodology? Do you give them your initial responses?