Don’t Skip Critique!

Benefit from peer feedback before hiring an editor

By Kate Jonuska

A friend of mine—who loves to read but has never written—once asked if I thought a book or seminal work had been written start to finish without need for changes, as if its author had been holding this perfect gem ready to burst forth. I couldn’t help laughing aloud, knowing how many revisions are necessary to polish even a short poem, let alone the amount of edits a book-length piece must go through to develop structure and content, bring grammar and style to heel, and comb out all its typos.

Having worked with a lot of new writers over the years, I find that many folks come to writing with versions of the same romantic idea, completely unaware of how many drafts and changes are required to create the wonderful, seamless story that readers enjoy on the page. Due to that naivete, some newbies immediately jump from first draft to hiring a professional editor, a mistake that can be costly for the wallet and rob the novice writer of the opportunity to improve their skills.

Instead of hiring an editor so soon, I heartily recommend that all writers—new and experienced—first participate in some form of peer feedback, known in writing circles as critique and usually done as part of a critique group.

Critique is free

Unlike paid editing, the only cost involved in joining or starting a critique group is your effort, and once you embrace the idea your draft will likely need work, such groups can save you thousands of dollars you would have spent on multiple rounds of editing.

For the uninitiated, critique groups meet regularly to discuss sections of participants’ writing, taking turns submitting drafts and feedback. Such groups meet both in person and online and commonly advertise via Meetup, Craigslist, community newsletters, local writing organizations, and more. Boulder Writers Alliance, for instance, hosts a wonderful local critique group, and statewide, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers hosts several such groups and will offer multiple workshops about critique at the upcoming 2021 Colorado Gold Writers Conference (October 15–17, 2021).

Certainly, you may experience critique as part of an academic environment that requires tuition, but critique groups should otherwise cost nothing outside of group expenses. Instead of money, critique runs on honest effort put forth by both you and your critique partners.

Critique is reciprocal

Editors are incredibly valuable experts, but the relationship between writer and editor is entirely one-sided. They don’t have to show you their writing in exchange for yours! Critique, on the other hand, requires you to engage with other people’s unfinished and imperfect writing in order to receive feedback on your own work in progress.

During every critique session, you’ll have to read your partners’ drafts closely and like a writer, figuring out what you like and don’t like about their piece, then attempt to express why. Such close analysis of rough drafts—other people’s rough drafts—sharpens your skills in ways that engaging with just your own writing cannot.

Also, because critique is usually done in groups of three or more, you’ll get more varied perspectives on your work via critique than you will an editor. The opinion of one person, someone in your employ, can be dismissed as subjective to cushion your ego. Not so in a critique group, where many eyes may spot the same problem and force you to see your writing clearly.

Critique builds your network

So many new writers I’ve met are nervous to jump feet first into writing communities, even hesitant to call themselves writers if they’ve not sold any work. (Note: If you write, you are a writer!)

For some, hiring a professional editor might feel less scary than sharing your precious opus with a critique group, but when you are one day ready for publication, those peers are going to be your team, supporting you and helping spread the word about your work. Those peers are the foundation of your network and platform, and you will toil and grow together, upholding one another through the incredibly difficult process of writing and publishing.

Critique lets you make your best first impression

Critique is not enough to fully polish your manuscript, of course. You will need an editor at some point if you’re on the path to publication. However, dealing with your writing’s issues in critique before hiring an expert allows you to give that editor your best from the start, showing them you are also a professional, someone who has put in the work and artfully takes feedback.

When you’re ready, Boulder Editors is a wonderful place to find the right editor for your project, but to truly succeed and to respect their time, invest in your critique group before you reach for your wallet.

Kate Jonuska

Kate Jonuska is an indie author, freelance writer, and yoga teacher currently serving as Vice President of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Often dark and always speculative, her fiction crosses genres of literary fiction, science fiction, dystopia, and satire. Her first novel, Transference, was a Denver Post Staff Pick, and her nonfiction book, The Dictionary of Fiction Critique, is now in its second edition. Follow Kate on Twitter, @kjonuska, or find her online at katejonuska.com.

6 comments on “Don’t Skip Critique!

  1. Thank you for that clear-eyed perspective and advice, Kate. Oh, the multitude of revisions—so true!

  2. Thank you, Kate. It’s so helpful to have fresh eyes on a piece of writing. I really appreciate your concept of reading like a writer.

  3. That was a lovely argument for joining with colleagues to prepare your work before professional editing. The broader perspective, the comradery, the chance to practice before sending your piece out into the world, the cost savings. Well done!

  4. I totally agree with the necessity of critique groups. I’ve been in numerous over the years, and they’re so helpful to me in revising my own work. Even more important is that I’ve learned so much about my own writing from seeing what works and what doesn’t in other people’s writing.

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