The other night my husband and I were discussing my writing (one of my favorite subjects,) and he told me that it’s strange to read something that’s unpublished.

“When I’m reading a published book,” he said, “I’m more willing to accept whatever is there. I’m not looking for something to be wrong. If I don’t get it, I just assume that I will get it at some point later on. I just assume that the published book is perfect.”

While I know that published books are never perfect, (some come closer than others,) I understood what he meant. I too already have a certain expectation for published material so automatically there’s an amount of trust between the author and reader. The author gave their best work and jumped many hoops to get their book published. The reader paid money expecting it to be good, therefore they will give the author the benefit of the doubt that their book is worthwhile.

But coming from the other end, things can be quite different. When we read others’ raw material, we are reading with the mindset that it isn’t perfect, that there are mistakes, incongruities, and even some boring parts. That’s why they want us to read it in the first place- to make it better.

However, I think being too deep in this mindset can sometimes hurt more than it can help. I once heard an agent say that they wanted to give every writer the benefit of the doubt. They were always rooting and hoping for whatever they read to be wonderful. I wonder how much that helped her to spot the gems. It’s probably easy to dismiss just about everything when you’re only looking for the flaws.

So, in an effort to improve my critique skills, I want to come from the end of being positive. When someone hands me their work I want to be excited about it. I think it helps to not get too cerebral about the work until we notice that we’re bored or confused. If things are great, let them stay great. But when things get slow or confusing, when we stop feeling any emotion for the work, then we can try and work out why that happened.


  1. I like the idea of being more positive about critiquing. Sometimes I feel like I HAVE to say what’s wrong, so I start looking for the bad and focusing on that. Lately I’ve been trying to make an effort to point out everything I like as well because, when I’m being critiqued, those things are sometimes more important. I need to know what did worked, so I can fix the stuff that didn’t. Does that make sense?

    Great post!

  2. I think this is such a good point. I always hope the agents reading my stuff are reading it as if it was a published novel, and I try to put the same sort of excitement into something I’m reading for another writer.

  3. Kate Schafer Testerman blogged about the same thing several months back. She said she would have put this particular book down if it had landed in her query pile, but because it was a published work, she gave it the benefit of the doubt.

    • Liesl

    • December 3, 2010

    • 4:18 am

    Jeni that makes total sense. I think I’m critical to begin with, so when someone asks me to be critical I tend to overstep the line of constructive criticism and go right for the beating. Beginning with a more positive mindset helps keep the balance for me.

  4. A practice I try to follow is making a sandwich; positive, negative (if necessary),positive. Beginning and ending with positive statememts/comments softens the other blows.

  5. This is an excellent point, when you’re looking for mistakes it’s easier to be hyper critical.

  6. Good post – I never really thought about this before. I think it could help to apply this attitude to my own work too. Even when I’ve edited something to my satisfaction, sometimes I can’t help reading and re-reading it anxiously with the feeling that there must be a fatal mistake in there somewhere, just because I’ve got it stuck in my head that it’s “only a draft.”

    And I definitely agree with Jenilyn about pointing out things you like – when I give my work to my family to read I always ask them if there was any specific part they liked the best – so I can figure out what I’m doing right along with what I’m doing wrong!

Sign up for Liesl's Newsletter

To get the quarterly updates on events, book releases, and reading/writing inspiration, just enter your email address below.
Email address
Secure and Spam free...
%d bloggers like this: