Tuesday, December 26, 2017

First Rules of Critique—“Rule Three”

by Eva Marie Everson @EvaMarieEverson

Over the past two months, I’ve written about two “rules” necessary to provide proper critique within a critique group or one-on-one with critique partners.

Now let’s take a look at the third rule, which is: Critique the work … not your feelings about the work.

Here’s an example: let’s say you are a police officer (or your family member works within law enforcement) and one of the pieces being critiqued is about corruption within police departments across America. Immediately something strikes you—the writer only wrote from one perspective, and it was one not flattering to your fellow men and women in blue.

What should you do?

First question to ask yourself is this: how well-written is the work? Did the writer use captivating scenes, word choices, strong verbs? Are the sentences evenly paced? Did your heart race in all the right places? If the answer is “yes,” then start with that.

Now that you have encouraged the writer with your praise (at Word Weavers we call that the first piece of bread in the cold sandwich method), now you can kindly mention that, as a police officer, you are aware that there is corruption within some departments, but you would encourage the writer to look at this particular piece from another perspective.

Let your conversation be always full of grace,” Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Colossae. “Seasoned with salt,” he said, “so that you may know how to answer everyone.”[i]

Of course you’ve heard the old adage, “You draw more flies with honey than vinegar” … to which I always say, “But who needs more flies?”

I digress …

So, what do you do if the piece is not well-written? What if this writer has a clear axe to grind? What should you do then?

The same scripture from Paul applies. First, commend the person for their passion and their strength to write about such a subject matter. Then, calmly (salt shaken here) say to the writer, “As a police officer myself, I can see that you have a hurt that you are trying to express. I’m not going to comment on that right now—although I hope you will consider interviewing officers or the family members of officers before you submit this for publication. What I will comment on is here on line 4—you used the word walked, but I think a stronger verb—perhaps a more accurate verb—is ambled.”

Now you have stayed within the correct critique style to be heard, rather than just listened to. You would have made a valid point (pieces such as these need both sides to be well-written) and you have given the writer “writerly advice.”

In the course of my nearly 21 years in Word Weavers, I have seen pieces brought for critique with subject matter that I have not always agreed with. Sometimes they are about issues such as the one I created above (and it is totally made up—to my knowledge, this has not happened). Sometimes they are differing ideas on Scripture interpretation. Other times, they are differing styles that cause the rub. The point is: this is not about your feelings on the subject, the genre written in, or the style the writer chooses to use. This is about the writer’s feelings on the subject … and helping them, with salt applied, to be the best writer they can be.

First rules of critique for writers; "Rule Three" - @EvaMarieEverson (Click to Tweet)

First critique the writing, not your feelings about the writing - tips from @EvaMarieEverson (Click to Tweet)

In case you missed the other posts in the series, here are the links:

First Rules of Critique, "Rule One"
First Rules of Critique, "Rule Two"
First Rules of Critique, "Rule Four"

Best-selling, award-winning author Eva Marie Everson is the president of Word Weavers International, the director of Florida Christian Writers Conference, and the contest director for Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Her latest novel, The One True Love of Alice-Ann (Tyndale), released April 1, 2017.

[i] Colossians 4:6


  1. Very helpful (and timely) words. This problem has, on a couple of occasions, been further complicated for our group when the person being critiqued had a higher level of expertise than the ones voicing the critique - even though the rules were agreed to in advance and work for us 99% of the time. Thanks to time limits, we eventually move on. Jay in Anderson, SC

  2. Amen Ms. Eva Marie. Sometimes we have to lovingly help someone see that it really is a cow pie they're polishing, but we must also remind them that with time and effort it can bring forth beautiful, scent-filled flowers. God's blessings ma'am...

  3. It's hard to take your feelings out of a critique when you are passionate about a subject. However, the purpose remains to help a fellow writer grow.
    Thanks for reminding us, Eva Marie.

  4. Thank you. I think that you gave sound advice about rendering objective criticism. I appreciate the reminder.