Critiquing groups: their jobs and limitations


A tumbler post by lark kitacity that says "my writing prof said something about critique today that stuck with me: if you give a critique that results in the writer feeling like they never wanna writer again, it is you who have failed as a critique, bc you've extinguished someone's desire to create". There are two replies also by lark kitacity. The first one says "as a critique, your job is not to "make this piece of writing better" but to understand what the writer wants to achieve and help them to achieve it". The second ones says "...just wanted to add in case anyone ins reading the thread that I have had to mute this convo for my sanity so I'm not seeing any notifs, but I appreciate all the perspectives that have been shared and I'm glad this has resonated with many people".
Image source:

Critiquing groups hold a lot of power in determining whether a budding writer actually ends up blooming or not.  This is put into the hands of fellow classmates who are often just as confused as their critiquing partners.  Critiquing groups have important roles to play in the career of every writer, but they also have serious limitations that don’t typically get acknowledged.

The job of a critiquing group

Below are the general terms to what every member of a critiquing group is supposed to keep in mind when they dive into someone else’s work.

  • Understand the goal: Your job is to understand what that story is supposed to be and what the writer wants to say.  
  • Assess the writing: You can take a look at the writing and see where it hits the mark and where it doesn’t.  This is where the critique will be based.
  • Suggest improvements and changes: With a full picture, you can use those weaker points and make suggestions to help the writer accomplish their goal.

Sounds straightforward, right?  Exactly!  And when a critiquing group does those jobs, a writer’s journey has the valuable, proper support and collaboration that everyone can benefit from.  

The limitations of a critiquing group

As Voltaire said, however, “with great power comes great responsibility.”  A critiquer has to come from the right place for their critique to do those jobs.

  • You must get out of your own head: It doesn’t matter whether you like what the writer is saying or not.  You must get out of your own head and see it for what it is, regardless of personal preferences or opinions.
  • You need to come from a place of “power”: This refers to both understanding what a critique should be, and a place where you have something to offer.  To be blunt: do you want to do the critique?  A disinterested critiquer makes for a disconnected and useless critique.
  • Always comes from a place of positivity: No matter how much you may hate the writing or even your role as a critiquer, you should always remember that you hold someone’s baby in your hands.  Comment on the good things as well as the bad and always remember that your job is to help, support, and encourage!

What happens when a critiquing group goes awry?

There are a terrifyingly large amount of people who mask a roast behind the guise of a “critique” and then just brush it off saying that the writer has a weak skin if they protest.  But if your critique destroys the writer… Well, the image above says it best.

This was my own personal experience with critique groups for the most part.  Disinterested classmates ripping apart everyone’s work without knowing why they were doing it, and then leaving you with the pieces to put back together.  Meanwhile, you don’t have the first idea of how to do that.  

The crushing disappointment and shame were so strong that I didn’t write a single word, outside of my business writing jobs, for 5 very long years.  That is the kind of power that can either buoy up or weigh down a budding writer just trying to learn and improve.  If I can leave you with one thing, it would be this: use that power wisely!

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Kelterss View All →

Kelterss is an experienced freelance content writer and a published author based in New Brunswick, Canada. She writes website content, blog posts, and product descriptions for customers worldwide. Kelterss specializes in writing about mental health, fitness, and dog behaviour. Freelancing since 2014, Kelterss has earned over 3,200 reviews and has a 4.9/5-star rating.

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