Tuesday, March 27, 2018

First Rules of Critique, "Rule Five" — Know What You're Trying to Say

by Eva Marie Everson @EvaMarieEverson

Over the past few months, we’ve looked at a few ways to be a good critique-giver while serving as a member of a critique group. Now, let’s look at a few ways to be a good critique-receiver.

Rule #5: Know What You’re Trying to Say
Sadly, it’s has not been uncommon in the 21 years of Word Weavers, for our members to gather around the table, red pens poised and ready to jot notes of admiration and ideas for improvement only to hear the one whose work is about to be critiqued say, “I’m not sure what to do with this. It’s a mess. I have no idea what I’m trying to say.”

Yes, that can be a problem. While the situation is not completely unusual for writers (we’ve all felt the desire to hit our heads against a brick wall at some point when it’s time to sit down and write), that’s no excuse for bringing half-hearted work literally to the table.

So, What Do You Do?

First, in one sentence, write what you are trying to say. That can be difficult when you’re struggling to know exactly what that is (obviously). But here’s what I suggest: step away from your computer, pick up a pad of paper and a pen, and write down the point you’re hoping to make. Then, return to the computer (or your desk stacked with books) and research your topic (no matter the genre, this is important). Write down as many facts as you can. Take detailed notes, even those that you know won’t end up in your work.

Then … walk away for a little while. I promise it won’t hurt. Breathe. Read a little. Take a walk. Have a cuppa. Whatever you’d like to do … but for the love of Pete, walk away.

Now … go back to your notes. Draw a line through the parts that are not going to end up in your work. Yes, yes … they were good notes to collect, but scratch through them anyway. Next, turn to a clean page and put what’s left in order of how you believe they should be said. Or revealed. Or in order of importance to whatever you’re working on.

Take another breath because here it comes … Take all that information you’ve written down, that data you’ve zeroed in on, those facts you’ve ruminated on while doing something else for a while … and begin to tell it to the page.

Now it’s time to walk away again. The self-editing process will soon begin. You’ll return to the work, read it out loud, and determine if any or all of it makes sense. If it does, then yay. If it doesn’t, start over. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t bring a half-baked cake to your critique group. Give it your best and then rely on them to help you with the icing.

I’m sure your work will be delicious.

First Rules of Critique for Writers - Know what you're trying to say - @EvaMarieEverson (Click to Tweet)

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.


  1. I swear I learn something every time you share your knowledge Ms. Eva Marie. Another "keeper." Thank you so much for this counsel. By stating what I hope to achieve with each critique piece I bring forward, I set the tone and expectation for the others to help them deliver what I need. Genius! God's blessings ma'am...

  2. Eva Marie, this line is priceless: "don’t bring a half-baked cake to your critique group. Give it your best and then rely on them to help you with the icing." I teach English Comp 1 to seniors, and I strictly enforce two rules. When they peer critique, I insist they bring their best to their writing circle or their writing circle has permission to refuse to critique "a half-baked cake." And when I conference with students, I expect them to bring me their best effort. I tell them I'll work every bit as hard as they will to help them become better writers, but I won't work harder than them. I feel the same about working in a critique group or with a writing partner, but it's much easier to say as a teacher in a classroom than to an adult. :) If you don't mind, I'd like to steal your half-baked cake/icing analogy.

  3. Once in a while I run into something that's a "mess." Walking away is the best thing to do.

  4. Great advice, Eva. Even without being in a critique group. I often walk away from my laptop only to return refreshed and ready to move forward.