Report Card: Image created by author with a little help from the corner of a Mac Pages newsletter templateAt a writing conference, one author shared her simple method for teaching anyone (fellow writer or clearly not) to provide a helpful (and free!) critique. You teach your aspiring readers this secret code and set them loose on your manuscript: A = Awkward, B = Boring, C = Confusing, and D = Don’t believe it.

Well, that could eliminate the fear that your friends love you too much to call your baby ugly. I shared that code with my writing group, and we laughed. They’ve never resorted to using it; they pencil in questions or suggestions when I’m awkward, boring, confusing, or out of character. Their responses do point out what isn’t working.

But I believe it’s even more important (as a writer and as a reader) to identify what IS working. Then you can roll out more of the same: believable dialog, balanced reasoning, brilliant transitions, beautiful cadences. Shoring up the strong places is like hanging a gorgeous suit in your closet and measuring all future purchases against that quality.

By the way, don’t you love it when your readers award you smiley faces and LOLs? That’s what I really want to know! Did you laugh in the right places? Did you not laugh in the wrong places?

Writing and reading are a conversation, except it’s one long turn at a time. To give an insightful critique, simply converse with your full attention and personality between the lines and into the margins. Don’t try to guess how other readers might respond. This is your conversation, one-on-one. If you learned something, say so. If you need clarification, ask. If you’re ready to change the subject or the topic is beyond your expertise, yawn. The more you respond from your own perspective, personality, and background, the more accurately your writer friends can generalize their next readers’ responses, recognize their target readers, and revise for the best conversation starter they can ignite.

Text © Gwyn Nichols 2010