C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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Writing Critique Group Decoder

They say: That was interesting  and then add nothing else.

They mean: It wasn’t interesting.

They say: You made an interesting artistic choice there. At the turning point three quarters of the way through I would have done this…

They mean: If this was a totally different story, written by me, I’d like it.

They say: I found a bunch of typos here and you split an infinitive there and you like sentence fragments too much, cuz you know, that’s not a complete sentence…

They mean: I am a grammarian and hope to be an editor one day. Otherwise I am useless to you, but I can continue to be annoying. Later on I’ll be bewildered that no one ever sits near me or speaks to me at the break.

They say: Kaddoos to you!

They mean: I am an illiterate who doesn’t know the word kudos, so don’t take my praise so seriously.

They say: I absolutely love everything you write.

They mean: I want to sleep with you and hope you share my fetish.

They say: Where do you get your ideas?

They mean: Are you really the abused prostitute in the story and is it wrong that turns me on?

They say: There’s a few quibbles. Maybe you could engage more senses here and here and tell more than show in the last couple pages because it feel like you’re rushing the end.

They mean: I can make useful suggestions without trying to put you down to make myself feel good.

They say: I don’t care for fantasy stories so I really don’t have anything to say about that.

They mean: just what they said and that’s fair. If you hate a genre and can’t get past it, don’t comment on it.

They say: That wouldn’t happen.

They mean: That’s either outside my experience and I have no idea what I’m talking about or you have to write more to convince me that’s the ring of truth I’m hearing and not you working the smoke and mirrors.

You say: What do you mean, that wouldn’t happen? It did happen.

You mean: Sorry I didn’t hit the feel of verisimilitude for you. Yet. And sorry I sounded defensive.

They say: You sound defensive.

You say: Perhaps it’s because you’re being offensive.

They say: It’s just feedback. I don’t mean to be offensive.

You say: I guess I’m a delicate doily…or being offensive just comes really easy to you. Clod.

They say: Let me hit you over the head with the fact that I’m a teacher (or I’ve been published somewhere and you haven’t or as my good friend Norman Mailer used to say…)

They mean: Just do what I tell you to do and God, isn’t my voice a lovely basso profundo?

They say: Needs one more polish and you’re done. Have you thought about sending it to X magazine?

They mean: Good for you. Damn I wish I’d written that.

They say: I suck.

They mean: Somebody throw me a bone here and tell me one thing you liked about my story or I’m not coming back cuz I just can’t stand it anymore.

They say: You suck.

They mean: You shredded my favorite story last week. Payback, bitch!

They say: That’s the best story ev-er! Ev-er!

They mean: And you’re critiquing my story next! Mercy Master!

They say: I don’t understand the connection from here to there.

They mean: I wasn’t really listening.

They say: Your writing is very muscular and you know…workmanlike prose.

They mean: It’s too readable. I hate it.

They say: I hate epiphanies.

They mean: Your epiphany was banal or your story isn’t depressing enough to suit my worldview because no ending should ever connote trancendance because that would mean there is hope for the human race.

They say: It’s good but no agent or editor will ever touch that.

They mean: That’s really bad.


They mean: It’s no good for agents or editors without vision who are constantly trying to catch up with the last publishing trend.

They say: Your writing is good but your subject/genre isn’t hot in market right now.

They mean: Once everybody else publishes it, then we’ll concede it had value but for now we’ll pee all over your efforts.

They say: Your writing is very accessible.

They mean: They could understand it and enjoyed it.


They mean: They could understand it too easily which means you’re a commercial writer and therefore unworthy of their time.

They say: I don’t get it.

They mean: I don’t get it.


I’m high.

They say: Far out! Man, that was like…I don’t know…you know…

They mean: I am incapable of expressing myself and I meant to sign up for the hemp macrame class but it was full. Also, I’m high.

They say: Nothing but once in awhile you catch more than one or two people rolling their eyes so hard it looks like they might strain something.

They mean: You’re the hobbyist in the class who is, in their opinion, truly hopeless. They’re right.

They say: Something consistently unhelpful .

They mean: Who cares? That’s all they’ve got. They’re negative clods who will not help you in your career. And if they’re so shit hot, what are they doing in a group with you? Shouldn’t they be off somewhere exotic turning down calls from the Nobel committee?

They say: Something constructive and consistently helpful.

They mean: I consistently say something helpful to you because you’re helping me. Why don’t we ditch a bunch of these opinionated bozos, go have a coffee after group and become each other’s readers? I get you. You get me. Let’s lose all these people who don’t get us and exchange stories and finally have a voice we know is worth our trust? Also, if you don’t give me 3,000 words a week I’ll really bitch you out. Please do the same for me.

(Keep an eye out for these Theys. They could be really useful to your career.)

They say: I didn’t write anything this week.

They mean: I’m just here to snipe at others and refuse to put myself out there.

They say: Your story had a compelling sense of place.

They mean: I couldn’t bring myself to read that shit but I have to say something.

They say: The twist ending (or revelation or change in character or the emotion) felt too easily achieved/melodramatic or cheap.

They mean: what they said.

They could have a point. Maybe they don’t. Maye you underwrote it or overwrote it. Whatever they say or mean, remember this:


All art is subjective. Don’t take any critique too seriously. Listen and then do what makes sense to you. You must write for yourself first.


They say: Thank you for all your suggestions. I can’t wait to go home and implement all of them..even the ones that contradict each other.

They mean: I have no dignity and no judgement of my own.

Filed under: manuscript evaluation, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , ,

5 Responses

  1. milkfever says:

    Hilarious. I’m guilty of saying a few of these, and have heard quite a few of them too. Does no one in a critiquing group say what they mean? Or do we not know what we mean?
    I enjoyed the post. Really.

    • Chazz says:

      Thanks! Critique groups can be so crazy. And the “Kadoos to you!” thing? That was a quote.

  2. […] A while back I wrote The Critique Group Decoder as a service to writers uninitiated in the dance. Cl… […]

  3. Denise DeSio says:

    They give you consistently good criticism for three meetings in a row, then nothing.
    They mean: I tried to help you but you you’re much better suited to composing grocery lists.

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