Thursday, 7 May 2015

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Critique?

Is this how you think of critique?
Depending on how long you’ve been circulating through the Christian writing community, you may have heard or read a conversation that goes something like this:

Writer 1:  Hey, I’ve just finished my 750-page book on the life of Jesus, and I would love some feedback, if you’ve got the time.

Writer 2 (who is a nice helpful sort):  Sure. I probably won’t be able to get through the whole 750 pages [yikes!], but if you send me a copy, I’d be more than happy to have a look at it.

Writer 1 whips a telephone-book-sized manuscript from his backpack and hands it to his vict— er, reader.

Writer 2: Oooph!

One week later …

Writer 1:  Just wanted to know what you thought of my book.

Writer 2, thinking their honest opinion was sincerely wanted: Mate, I can see the truth of what you’re saying. I really can. Lots and lots of … er … truth, so that’s good, but the delivery was a little … um, dry [so dry, in fact, that I think it sandpapered my eyeballs]. Again, though, the teaching was all really solid [like a block of concrete]. So props for that, but it wasn’t, you know, all that … um, fresh. It was a bit like just reading the … you know, Bible.

Writer 1, sounding a teensy bit miffed: Of course the Holy Scriptures are the foundation for the truth, and the spiritually dead won’t appreciate that. As for immature Christians, they don’t have the ability to grasp the deeper concepts of faith.

Writer 2:  [Whoa! Bring back the sun ‘cause I think I just got thrown some shade.] Yeah, well, I’m no Shakespeare, but maybe a bit of editing wouldn’t go astray. Little things, like aisle instead of isle. Lightning instead of lightening. Jesus instead of Jebus. Things like that. And paragraphs. Paragraphs would be good. And maybe a few adjectives now and then.

Writer 1, doing a good impersonation of a Chilean volcano: Editing? I received this message direct from the Holy Spirit. Every single word was inspired by Him. To change any of it would be to interfere with His perfection.

Need I go on? You get the point.

Although that was a slight exaggeration of the worst-case scenario, reactions like this do happen with thin-skinned, tender-hearted writers, and it is particularly difficult when a defence of holy inspiration is invoked. From an editor or publisher’s point of view, that’s when you hand back their telephone book of a manuscript and wish them every success (while thinking, “Don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out.”).

Or do you recognise critique as a gift?
Wielding the “holy inspiration” weapon against critique may protect a sensitive heart, but it does nothing to honour our creative and perfect God. Yes, He does often inspire His writers, but even when that happens, we are all imperfect clay vessels who need to hone and craft that inspiration so it shines for His glory and communicates His message in a clear and engaging way. That’s where critique comes in. In other words, instead of seeing critique and red ink as the enemy, see it (and the one offering the critique) as a blessing straight from the heart of God.

We often make the mistake of thinking that encouragement is only found in good, “positive” feedback. However, encouragement is wasted when a person thinks they already have it all together. Encouragement is a gift of truth, wrapped in love, and tied with grace. It is a shining beacon to help a person find their way when they wander off track (or were never on the track to begin with).

So instead of fighting against that helpful hand, or hiding with fingers in ears until the big, bad critique-giver goes away, step out with fearless confidence and receive the precious gift they are offering. (You can always exchange it later if it doesn’t fit.)

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
(Proverbs 27:17 NIV)

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DEB PORTER is a publisher (Breath of Fresh Air Press), writer, editor, and popular public speaker, with a particular gift for communicating in a way that is both enjoyable and easy for readers and listeners to understand. Deb has been the right hand person at since 2003, and is a regular speaker at conferences, but prefers to spend one-on-one time with authors at these events. As the Coordinator of the FaithWriters Writing Challenge since its inception, Deb has helped shape this weekly contest into arguably the most popular aspect of, and she now publishes the winning entries in the Mixed Blessings book anthologies.


  1. Oh, I did enjoy your post, Deb. And I love the truth of that proverb. It would the very best thing for first time writers to first whip off their manuscript to an editor for an assessment instead of asking a friend. Yeah, yeah ... money. But we're all more willing to listen to the professional ( because it costs) instead of the friend, anyway. Yet, when we first begin, we don't even have an inkling of of all the steps involved. maybe it's just as well because it might've stopped in our tracks. :-)

    Now as for blaming the Holy Spirit for their own inadequacy, O' dear. I'm afraid the dear Lord gets blamed for more than a writer's errors also. Even so, If we're writing Christian fiction or nonfiction, we need His guidance so we won't slip into any theological errors...easily done. Another pair of wise eyes is a must in our writer's world.

    Because I'm constantly writing 5 minute radio programs and don't have the time to read M/Ss, I've made it a point to suggest the best steps to take to any aspiring writers. That's the kindest, and most helpful way from my point of view. Of course if you do have the freedom to help another with a critique, do it with all the love and patience you'd want for it to happen to you! I well remember with my very first book, dear Mary Hawkins gave me some really helpful pointers to set me on the right track. (She should get a 'mentor of many authors' reward.)

  2. I shold've edited this myself instead of whizzing it off!!!!

    1. Having a little chuckle about the typo. ;-) Agree completely with all you said, and you were blessed indeed to have Mary point you in the right direction with your first book. There does need to be another article to show the other side of this coin--the critique giver. My advice is that we must be sincere in everything we say (don't tell someone it's brilliant if it isn't) but over everything, be kind.

  3. Hi Deb - Love your example. I remember going to a Larry Norman concert once (showing my age). He told a story about how he's been places where someone has introduced themselves with "God gave me this song" and he's thought, "Gee, I thought God would be able to write better songs than that" :) It is tricky when someone is defensive about constructive critique, but also tricky to give the critique in a constructive way. I love your line "Encouragement is a gift of truth, wrapped in love, and tied with grace." Thanks for sharing Deb xx

    1. heh heh heh about the Larry Norman story. Yep. ;-)

  4. Great post Deb. I was about to tell you how much I loved the line 'Encouragement is a gift of truth, wrapped in love and tied with grace.' when I looked up at Nola's comment and saw she'd mentioned it too. However, it's true. It grabbed me. Thank you for a cleverly presented blog with plenty of truth wrapped in love and tied in grace! :)

  5. Really enjoyed your post, Deb. All too true. After joining Omega Writers and meeting people like Annie Hamilton and Rochelle Manners, my motto is now, 'Perfection is impossible, but excellence is essential.' And I will never again self-edit or have family/friends edit. I am so very grateful for the professional mentors and editors I have. God has provided the money to pay them and they have been worth every cent!