Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Critiquing Like a Mentor by Cindy Thomson

One of the most valuable writing tools for an author is a critique partner. But sometimes it's hard to find the right person who can guide you without squashing your confidence. Today, author and editor Cindy Thomson shares her thoughts on critiquing like a viking ... er ... mentor. -- Sandy

Cindy: You’ve probably seen this going around Facebook: Take what you just did and add: “LIke a Viking.” You can end up with some funny scenarios like, “Cleaned up doggie doo-doo, like a Viking!” Or “Made dinner for my kids, like a Viking!” It does make you think, doesn’t it? What if you did your daily chores with as much passion as a Viking would?

That got me thinking. What if we added “like a mentor” to the end of what we’re doing? “I yelled at my kids, like a mentor.” “I talked on the phone, like a mentor.” And what I’d like to talk about here: “Critiqued, like a mentor.”

It is so easy to give criticism, and not so easy to give it constructively. Yes, we can often see errors. No, sometimes we don’t know how to fix them. I think for writers a good rule is to only give feedback that has the potential to help. It’s fine to say so if you know something isn’t quite right about your fellow author’s piece but don’t know what it is. That’s enough reaction for the writer to go back and try to figure it out. But what I’m talking about is criticizing something because you personally don’t like it or would not have written it that way yourself. That does nothing to help or to mentor that writer.

For example, say your writer friend shared a piece about using leeches for healing that contains some explicit information, stuff you could barely stomach. Just because you wouldn’t normally read it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have merit. But she may think EVERYONE should read her piece. It could be very helpful, after all. How do you critique that? Let’s say it together: LIKE A MENTOR! It could go something like this:

“Joan, who would your target audience be?”

“Uh, everyone. You never know when you might need the histamine-like substances, the acetylcholine, and the carboxypeptidase A inhibitors that leeches can provide.”

“But not everyone needs it, right? Let’s brainstorm and see who might be the most likely to read your article—doctors, diabetics with wounds that won’t heal, those who look for alternative treatments. That way you can avoid those who might be a bit put-off by it and would never consider leeches in the first place. Those people are not the ones you are trying to reach.”

Choose your words carefully to not only spare feelings but to also lead the writer to a way of thinking that will bring success.

Critiquing is worthless if it is not helpful. No matter how much you want to be kind, the writer will not improve unless someone points out his/her errors. But when you do so “like a mentor” you are leading, guiding, and advising the writer on his/her way to being read. 

Do you use critique partners? Did it take you a while to find the right one or find the right balance and tone in critiques?


Cindy Thomson’s newest novel is Annie’s Stories (Tyndale House Publishers, July 2014,) the second in her Ellis Island series. She is also the author of Brigid of Ireland, Celtic Wisdom: Treasures From Ireland, and co-author of a baseball hall of famer biography Three Finger: The Mordecai Brown Story. She has written numerous magazine articles mostly on Irish genealogy, and blogs at Find her on Facebook: and Twitter: @cindyswriting