Deborah Anderson

Deborah Anderson has written for Focus on the Family, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and numerous other publications. She is a member of SCBWI, TWV, ACFW, CWG, and FCW. Married 31 years, Deborah and her husband enjoy country living in the Midwest. She also spends her time rescuing cats, reading novels, and taking nature walks. Deborah recently completed a supernatural suspense novel for young adults. You can contact Deborah at: Visit her at

Diary of A Crazy Writer

Critique Etiquette

In April’s column, I mentioned that writers should judge contests so they can understand what professionals experience when reading their manuscripts. Afterward, I thought of something just as significant—the writers’ points of view, how hard it is for them, especially when someone analyzes their work.

Over the years, I’ve submitted my work to contests, fellow writers, and critique groups, and many of them have helped me. Although a few of their comments stung at first, they seasoned their critiques with kindness and grace. After careful consideration, I concluded they were right, so I took their suggestions to heart, which taught me to become a better writer.

I’ve come across some, though, who were haughty, high-minded (hoity-toity, as my mother used to say), and ripped my manuscript (and me) to shreds. They didn’t care what they said or how they said it. By the time they finished, I wanted to know where they lived.

The nerve.

Perhaps this happened because of anonymity. With the Internet as a primary resource of communication these days, others don’t measure their words like they would face-to-face.

In fact, one judge slammed a gavel over my head as if my characters had committed a manuscript felony, as though I was personally attacking her faith. I wanted to shout, Hello? It’s a story, you idiot.

My response wasn’t Christian, but if we’re going to be honest, we’ve all felt this way at times. (I just opened my big mouth and said it.)

And it’s not because I don’t have thick skin. I do. When someone goes on a verbal tirade, though, with no constructive criticism for me to wash it down, it tends to stick in my craw.

So what’s a person to do?

Find out where they live.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

For starters, master constructive criticism. I’ve listed a few guidelines for your perusal.

• Make comments/suggestions only if they’ll help the author with his story. Your convictions about religion, politics, and other worldviews don’t trump someone else’s voice. You’re not the one writing the book.
• Don’t sling insults at the authors’ work. Refrain from all snarky/snotty remarks.

• Never personally attack the author. Critiques are meant to criticize/review the authors’ work, yes, but it doesn’t give you a license to verbally assault anyone. This kind of behavior is mean-spirited and especially harmful to fledgling writers. Instead, suggest tips, such as how-to books, writing courses, or other helpful advice. Remember, you were once a beginner too.
• If you don’t like a story merely based on your point of view, don’t slam the author, telling him he’ll never make it. Again, you’re not the one writing the book. And readers have eclectic tastes. What you see as garbage might be a best seller to someone else.
• Identify with your fellow writers. They’ll know when you’re talking down to (or preaching at) them. Remember the same weaknesses you struggled with when you first began.
• Don’t skim the manuscript to get your required number of critiques in. Dig deep, taking the time to help your critique partners, just as you would expect them to do for you.
• Make your point, then let it go. Don’t argue with them because they didn’t heed your advice. We all have to make our own way.
• Most important, tell the truth. You’re doing a huge disservice if you don’t, but season your words with kindness and grace. The author will respect you for it later.

Many writers know/suspect their weak spots before they even submit. They’re looking to someone for guidance, to increase their learning, and the camaraderie. If done properly, and in the right spirit, that someone to help them could be you.


Chicken Soup For The Soul: The gift of Christmas