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Help with writing: 6 tips for getting critiques

There are many options for getting help with writing online. Here are 6 tips to get the maximum benefit from writing critiques:

There are many options for getting help with writing online. Here are 6 tips to get the maximum benefit from writing critiques:

1. Be brave, bold, and play

In an in-person, ‘live’ writing group, you might feel daunted. Sometimes it’s hard to write the bold lines and stories that make our hands shake. Because they’re personal, raw, or simply something you’re hesitant to share, to ‘put out there’.

In an online writing group you can be braver, bolder. Tell your story from the heinous anti-hero’s perspective. Write that shocking love or crime scene that would make your mother blush or cover her eyes in horror. Write what you want.

In Now Novel’s critique forum, you can get writing help and share extracts up to 800 words long for peer feedback anonymously, or as author-linked critique submissions displayed on the private profile only other members can see.

2. Identify what you most need help with

As in an offline writing group, when you share writing in a private online forum, it helps critique providers if you give some direction.

Specify whether you’d like feedback on dialogue, character depth, SPAG (spelling, grammar and punctuation), clarity, tone, mood, or any other element.

In Now Novel Groups where you’ll find our critique community, you can use the description box accompanying every critique submission to give the reader context (for example, if this is a scene that takes place after your main character receives a terrifying ransom note).

Describe your intent to help your beta reader return insights aligned to your goals.

Ken Follett on the value of honest writing critique | Now Novel

Often members who use our free writing critique forum will contact us via in-app support and say ‘I need help with my use of tenses’, or ‘how do I make my characters more believable?’ 

When readers keep identifying the same problem, don’t feel discouraged: It’s a gift. Because you have clear insight that there’s something specific you can practice and get better at, today.

If readers keep correcting your tense, read an article on writing tenses with examples and practice creating your own tense examples. Read a story and make notes on the tense of the verbs used in a paragraph. Making practical exercises on your biggest stumbling block will diminish it in no time.

4. Take what’s useful and discard the rest

A big part of using writing help to the fullest is learning to spot what is the reader’s bugbear or preference, and what is a legitimate issue. Some things are simply a matter of basic standards. Clear sentence structure, grammar and punctuation, for example.

However, take an author like J.M.G. Le Clézio (who was awarded the Nobel for Literature in 2008). In his book The Giants (1975), he breaks all kinds of formatting rules, using language creatively. For example, here, where he uses strange formatting and jumbled letters to visually create the effect of tuning a radio (and the noise between stations):

Bogo liked it when people spoke in low voices. Then you could choose the words you wanted, as though you were reading a book; you could listen to only those words that were beautiful, or funny; you could hear only what you wanted to hear. You turn the knob to the left and you hear:

J. M. G. Le Clézio, The Giants (1975), p. 144.

Using formatting creatively - J. M. G. Le Le Clézio | Now Novel
Creative use of formatting and ‘breaking the rules’ in Le Clézio’s ‘The Giants’

Thus you can break the rules. If a critique giver doesn’t understand what you’re trying to do and has a different set of ‘standards’ or ‘rules’ in mind to your own, pick out what’s useful. Or change the channel.

5. Return the favour when you get writing help

Something we encourage members to do when submitting their own work for critique is to give feedback to someone else in return. We used to enforce that Now Novel members give 3 critiques for every piece of their own writing they shared. Critiques were a currency, of sorts.

However we learned that people would sometimes give non-helpful critiques not engaging with the writing in a rush to get feedback on their own work. So we changed the rules to make sure people critiqued because they wanted to help, and not just to earn their submission privileges.

Advantages of giving as well as getting writing help

Giving other writers feedback is helpful because:

  • Grappling with why others’ writing does and/or doesn’t work, and communicating this as tactfully as you can, helps you to apply the same objectivity and grace to your own writing
  • You become aware of the many elements of craft that go into an effective piece of writing
  • You recognize your own strengths and remember to look up things you don’t know the answer to yourself

6. Let biased feedback slide off your back

Working with an experienced writing coach rather than peers has its own advantages. A writing coach knows how to provide constructive guidance kindly and tactfully.

Even if a scene is ‘terrible’ (in that it has scarcely comprehensible SPAG, sentence structure or story craft issues), a constructive coach will find a way to help you improve rather than be negative.

In an online writing community of peers, some will show no pause in giving you a 4/10 to a piece of writing. Just because they don’t like your genre. So learn to focus in on critiques where the intent is clearly to be constructive and share thoughts with some objectivity and sensitivity for your feelings and the labour of love you’ve put into writing.

How can you get help with writing?

For constructive, free feedback from peers and members of the Now Novel team on short 800-word extracts, join our writing community (upgrade easily for extra outlining tools and support).

For professional assistance from a writing coach on an ongoing basis that will help you develop a cohesive, compelling story, invest in a coaching subscription.

By Bridget McNulty

Bridget McNulty is a published author, content strategist, writer, editor and speaker. She is the co-founder of two non-profits: Sweet Life Diabetes Community, South Africa's largest online diabetes community, and the Diabetes Alliance, a coalition of all the organisations working in diabetes in South Africa. She is also the co-founder of Now Novel: an online novel-writing course where she coaches aspiring writers to start - and finish! - their novels. Bridget believes in the power of storytelling to create meaningful change.

2 replies on “Help with writing: 6 tips for getting critiques”

Thanks, Elias 🙂 Using feedback well is key (as well as taking on board anything useful and ignoring anything personal or ad hominem). Thanks for reading!

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