Photo by Annie Sprat

This is a little bit of rant here. But I hope you see my point that critiquing work in a writing group isn’t just about sharing an opinion, it’s about encouraging writers and bringing out the best in their work. Critique honestly and constructively. Writers join these groups to share and grow, not to be discouraged or insulted.  

Last post, Brainstorming, was about the positive side of sharing your work with writing buddies. But there are downsides. 

I’ve had many a critique where my writing buddies have pointed out issues. That’s exactly why I share my work there so I can get feedback on what works and what doesn’t. It’s what writers do to improve and get support as they go. 

I’ve also critiqued many stories that I wouldn’t have critiqued if it weren’t for knowing the writer or returning a favour. I enjoy critiquing these stories because it forces me to think outside my usual wheelhouse. But if I don’t feel like I can adapt to offer constructive thoughts, then I’ll send a message to explain.

Something that bothers me both personally and empathetically is when critters say “This isn’t my thing,” or “I’m not a fan of this genre…blah, blah, blah,” but they feel like they should give you their biased thoughts anyway. I’m sure they have good intentions, but more often than not, they just waste their time, and yours. 

Why critique something that isn’t your thing? 

Many are returning a favour or welcoming newcomers to the group. It’s great to reach out in this sense. But it’s also better to say “I read part of your story, and while it’s well-written, it’s just not my thing, so I don’t feel like I can give you a realistic critique based on the target audience.” The number of times I wish people would have said this rather than critiquing something they just aren’t into and giving and being unnecessarily negative.

Someone outright insulted a fellow writing buddy’s work because her amazingly emotional and personal short story wasn’t their thing. They said they hated it. Why do that to an aspiring writer? This was beyond wrong for that person (not returning a critique or following up any previous correspondents whatsoever) to insult her work for no reason at all. The same critter actually did something similar with my work only a month or so before, but I saw their negative critique for what it was, lording some sense of experience over me since they thought I was new to the site. I was a returning member and more than familiar with his type. 

Okay, so this was a pretty nasty experience. Many of the “Not my thing,” people aren’t this bad. They’re just not useful. Would you ask a sci-fi fan to read your historical fiction novel if they weren’t open to it? Or a romance fan to read a war story? Maybe they choose to read it with an open mind and actually enjoy it as I have. If not, you’re just wasting your time and the writer’s while risking insulting others. 

It’s great to look for other genres to critique beyond your favourite or what you write. Just remember that the writer has a particular target audience in mind. Mystery fans, fantasy fans, teens, middle grade, adults. If you don’t feel like you fit into that group or can’t adapt to that group, then you should seriously consider what you can offer the writer in their journey to being published. Because they are still on that journey.

I’ve chosen my critters carefully for my private group where only they can see my work. I feel strongly that each one offers many benefits in their feedback on my work and appreciates my writing and story as well as my personal hopes for it in the future.  

It’s okay to say “It’s not my thing so I’m not going to critique your story”.

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