Critiquing in Faith
Patricia Reece Krugel
ACFW - Scribes 218
Recently, while mulling over the aspects of writing an article on critiquing, I recalled the blessings I had received. These were unexpected blessings that came as a direct result of pouring over other writers’ chapters. It was from examining the efforts of others that I received more knowledge on how to improve my writing—skills I would need if I ever wanted to effectively labor for the Lord.
I sat down at my keyboard to write that article. It occurred to me, then, I really hadn’t thought that much about the technique, since I somehow managed to do a reasonable job.
After starting several drafts, struggling each time to explain what transpired, I realized the only way to tell this was to forget about coming at it from a cerebral perspective. I should write about the process. So I did, and here it is.
I downloaded a chapter, selected “Review” on the menu and clicked on “Track Changes”. The easy part behind me, I started to work through the chapter, looking for what didn’t seem to flow or make sense to me. At the same time, I attempted to track the contents for any unfinished thoughts or actions.
As I read, something surprising happened. I lost my place and fell into the chapter, unable to hold the complete story in my memory, thus making it impossible for me to single out what could possibly help the writer. Unwilling to give up, I started over and crawled through that chapter until I could point out what didn’t seem to fit for me, the reader. It wasn’t easy, or quick, but I stayed at it. A defeating spirit of fear attacked with thoughts such as, ‘You can’t say that. You’ll hurt their feelings’, or ‘You’re not accurate.’
Finally, though, I did finish. I had poured over that chapter for just over two hours.
My penchant for small details had surfaced, too. A trait that drove my husband to the point of eyeballs tipped up, whites showing. This became especially so, when I acted on that little voice inside my head—the one that said, ‘You’ve got to tell that writer every little detail. Don’t overlook a thing.’
Would the small details of all those remarks twang the nerves of the person receiving my critique? I didn’t know, but I had to be truthful with the writer. Reason insisted I should leave something for others to comment on; however, that urge to cover it all surged through me.
A willingness to help kept me bent over my keyboard. I found that I would need more time than I could spare to fulfill my obligations unless something changed. I worked to absorb the chapters more quickly, while I still tracked the details. After a while I managed to cut my two hours down to less than one.
I developed a routine.
- First, do a read-through while I made notations.
- Then lay the chapter aside until later—in some cases the next day.
- Finally, go through it again, checking to see if the previous remarks still applied.
Soon, my life settled into a daily struggle to write my own good story while I worked to stay up with completing my partners’ critiques.
I learned important things during those years. One significant discovery was that critiquing the work of others made me a better writer.
The instruction books that lined my coffee table, lay around my writing room, and inhabited other areas of my home, were just one way of learning the skills needed for good writing. When I critiqued another’s work, I gained more experience with the organization of narrative and dialog, as well as how to use timed, effective beats.
I cannot point to any one person or manuscript as an example. Still, critiquing a variety of genres while continuing to work on succeeding chapters by the same writers, brought a better flow to my own work. I found my words and ideas fit into my manuscript more easily than before I had joined a critique group.
Another thing I found was how important the Lord was in my struggle to critique, as I took my burdens to Him. “But…but, Lord, I didn’t mean to say it like that. Did I hurt their feelings from marking so much that I thought needed an improvement?” The quiet response resonated in my spirit. I was to always be honest in my opinions.
Occasionally I would go back to review my critiques, after they went out, just to be sure I was satisfied with the job I’d done. This was especially good if I didn’t have any communication with the person after that, although most writers send a thank you. Then, once in a while, the Lord would convict me on a callused response or an unclear or hastily written remark. When that happened, I contacted the writer to more fully explain my remark. Through all this, I found a kinder way to make my comments.
It took me awhile to mature in my writing experience. Slowly, I learned to follow the Lord’s instructions on what to focus on—what was important.
God didn’t speak directly to me, but to my spirit. I understood so clearly that I had a responsibility to His other Christian writers. Were they under attack from the author of confusion, the great deceiver that comes to wreak havoc on the Lord’s writers? I didn’t know what was going on in their lives, so I worked to soften my responses—a kind of diplomacy I didn’t have before, if you will.
Every so often I go back to the Lord with my uncertainties. He places that desire in me to discount feelings or thoughts of inadequacy. Simply do the work and enjoy it, as I learn.
It has been ten years since I joined the craft of writing, and almost that long since my discovery that I work for the Lord, not myself. I still marvel at some of the things I experienced under His patient, guiding hand.
No one should ever write alone. I think we must open our hearts and talents to help others. After I become a published author, I’ll consider myself under assignment, taking my instructions from the great author, Himself.
When I shall come under attack from the deceiver as I write on the front lines for my Lord, and I surely will, I will receive exactly what I have sown into my efforts. No one has ever picked grapes from an apple tree, no matter how much they desire a cluster. If I want patience with my work, I should be patient while critiquing the work of others. Regardless of how many times I point out an issue. Who knows, that person may learn by rote—repetition. If so, they have a difficult enough time already.
One problem for me was POV. How could I critique a writer’s work if I didn’t understand that, myself? I was sure no one ever suffered like I did, trying to master that elusive skill. But, largely from working with critique groups, I finally did learn. Then I wanted to do cartwheels as I shouted that I now understood. If you have just started to write, spend some time in the trenches critiquing manuscripts. You’ll receive skills that you need.
There is one important thing that the critique process has made clear to me in the years I’ve struggled to write. God is good. He doesn’t call anyone to write without providing what they need to be successful. We are required to learn. If we don’t we won’t progress. But He will send people to us with suggestions or other things we need to move forward. As long as we are faithful to write, He is faithful to help us.
It’s my firm belief that a writer is not blessed with a story only to have it not succeed. It may be, in fact; that what we’re writing isn’t necessarily what we’re called to write. That story stuck in our craw, the one we feel He’s put in our spirit, could have been put there as an exercise in learning how to write. The big one that we write could be yet to come. We have to trust Him in all we do, believe that He will do exactly what His word says, because in the end we can only do it through Him and expect to be content in our work.
When I work for the Lord, I hold my position. Chapters that irritate me in a read-through cause me to double down in prayer when I critique them. If you feel you’d like to improve on your critiques, then ask the Lord to help you. Roll up your sleeves, put away your doubts, and get started
God is the giver of all good things. If He intends for a writer to succeed, they will.
Patricia Reece Kriugel