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WRITE: Critique or Criticism?

Posted by on May 5, 2010 in criticism, critique, teachable, WRITE | 3 comments

Over the past few years, I’ve had many opportunities to advise others on their writing. In my work as an editor, I correct and improve others’ work. As a collaborative writer, I write for those who don’t have the time, ability, or interest to write for themselves. As a book doctor, I work with my clients to take their manuscript from “good” to “great”—from words others can read to words others want to read. And as a writing mentor, I help others learn to view their work from an editor’s eye. This allows them to make needed corrections before someone else does.

Last week, I had the opportunity to critique a friend’s short manuscript. I returned it with no small concern because I’d made a few big suggestions and several small ones. Have I gone too far? What will she say?

Not only did my friend write back to thank me, but she made two profound comments. I’ll share one today and another in my next “Write” post. Her first comment: “I worked and worked on it, but I have no problem admitting I am just not experienced enough / haven’t learned enough (yet!) to see all the things you pointed out.”

My friend displayed a quality I love. It’s the quality I see in those I consider my mentors, and it’s the one I ask God to give me. When she read my critique, my friend didn’t get upset. She didn’t fuss, whine, protest, or complain. She received what I said whether she intended to follow my advice or not (although, as a later draft showed, she did).

In all these things, my friend showed that she’s teachable. You may think it obvious that a less experienced writer would want to learn from a more experienced one. That’s not always the case. In interactions with other writers, I’ve witnessed many who argued and complained about corrections to their writing. I’ve heard them refuse to make needed changes. And at times, I’ve done (or been tempted to do) the same thing.

We often compare the writing process to delivering a child. Both involve labor. And when that word-baby finally arrives, it’s yours. None other is as wonderful or appealing. And if someone dares criticize your baby? Watch out!

The difference comes in perspective. Do we see others’ suggestions as critique or criticism? Critique is offered with a view to improvement. Criticism expresses pent-up emotion. Critique builds up. Criticism tears down.

I offer my writing suggestions as critique. And I love it when those who receive my words display a teachable spirit that helps them move forward. Lord, let it be so in me—in my writing work and in any area of my life that requires your guidance and correction.

Are you teachable? How do you receive critique or criticism? Share your stories!


  1. Oh, I am SO sharing this with a couple of my writer’s lists. This is excellent advice for anyone critiquing…or getting one. Thank you.

  2. RR, one of the reasons your edits were easy to accept on a past project was because of your gracious, helpful spirit. Thank YOU!

  3. For those who happen upon this post: The piece I referenced here was accepted to a (traditionally published) compilation book. This was the first piece my friend ever submitted for publication. The moral of the story? Critique works–and being teachable does, too.

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