“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.
― Henry Ford
Giving a critique is hard work, but getting one can be almost traumatic. It depends on where you are in your writing. I’ve been at this for a long time, and I know the closer you get to finally accomplishing your goal, if your goal is getting published, the more painful receiving a critique is as an event.
And getting a good critique is an event.
In my first chapter of RWA, the Published authors generously donated their time to critique manuscripts for the aspiring authors in the group. Each month, the aspiring authors recorded the number of pages they completed in that thirty-day period into a small booklet at the chapter meeting. For each fifty pages, you were given an entry into a drawing and once a quarter, the published author who had volunteered provided a critique.
This is how I learned all critiques are not created equal.
Although the generosity of the authors in my group never failed to amaze me, the difference between the critiques was much like night and day. Most authors offer valuable input in terms of when they get pulled out of the story, and obvious glaring grammatical errors, but many aspiring authors don’t know how to convey exactly what is wrong with the story, even when they know it to be true.
Especially writers who are “born Storytellers”. They are often some version of pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants) who have an innate sense of story, almost a race memory from ancient times and even though they know something is missing, they cannot name the missing element.
Sometimes, just being made aware of “bumps” that throw a reader out of a story is helpful. Sadly, for the person just starting out who is still learning the craft, those notifications are often more aggravating than helpful. They need the assistance of the experienced writer in vivid detail.
If you’re trying to help an aspiring writer just take a chance, try telling them where they went wrong and the specific why of how that happened. Such as, “I don’t believe your character would do this” (motivation), or there is no point in telling us this right now, (backstory). Help the aspiring writer find the steps of character growth. You don’t need to hold the hand of the newbie, or do it for them, but rather help with pointing to a class and craft workshops or books which may help them develop a writing style on their own.
The most valuable critique partners are those who are on a similar level, and are willing to work on their craft. They often see the problems in your manuscript more clearly than they can see their own mistakes, and this is an effective way to learn. I often find my own transgressions after doing a detailed critique for someone else. Every aspect of critiquing enhances a writers polish on their own work.
Critique is the single most valuable input a writer can get on an unpublished manuscript. Hopefully, before beta readers tell you whether or not your story is salable.