A Guide to Critiquing Amateur Writers/Bloggers

Vunderkind’s Note: I do not often write like this, so now that you’re here, you might as well finish the post.

Pen and paper

I started blogging earnestly in December last year, even though I have been writing for much, much longer.  If you are curious as to why this was the case, I’ll allow you a glimpse into my soul – I live for money, and I just didn’t see blogging – in this case, for creative writing and spinning yarns – paying my bills. So I rationalized: why blog when you no go get money from inside am?

Things were to change for me, however, when DankarO of the NaijaDude Blog asked me to do a short skit on his blog. As I recall, what I sent him was about three paragraphs long and hurriedly written on my BlackBerry’s note app, and after I sent it to DankarO, I thought nothing of it. This is where it gets interesting.

I was on twitter one day when a handle called @TheBawdyPaet mentioned me and said “you are a great writer sir. Just read what you wrote on NaijaDude’s blog” (I am paraphrasing; I can’t remember the actual words of the tweet).

I was elated. I cannot describe how I felt then, but that was officially the first time I was being praised for my work. Most times I just got paid with the promissory note of more jobs when they were available. But here I was – getting praise from a total stranger over something I wrote!

That stranger is no longer a stranger today, by the way. He’s @Paetir with the DISCLAIMER: NOT HUMAN blog. Paetir, DankarO and I are part of a team that manages WahalaCentral.

Why have I told this story? I’m not sure, but seeing as my blog today has crossed its 100-post mark, has close to 16k views and more than 1,500 comments – I even have a co-writer now – I daresay I have had time to reflect and ponder: what got me here?

It’s simple. It was the power of a comment.

It’s the little things that count, and I’m not talking mathematical dwarfs. With just one comment on a fledgling writer’s piece, you can either uplift, crush or make no impact at all in the life of that writer. There is power in your keypad, people.

For the purpose of disambiguation, I will like to define the terms for which they will be used in this post. When I call someone an amateur blogger, I mean a blogger who hasn’t “hit jackpot”, the ones who are under the radar of the Omojuwas and the Linda Ikejis. I am talking about the bloggers like me, the ones who still say “Please Read and RT” on the TL. The polite sons-of-a-gun.

By bloggers, I do not mean that brand of chaps who copy, paste and share “See what Wizkid Tweeted Last Night” posts. I am not talking about the Tweetfeeders. I am talking of honest people, who huddle in front of their laptops and phones and type out stories, poems and monologues for us to read.

When they write, they expect us to read and to leave a comment. Most times we do, and we unwittingly contribute to the development of that writer – for good or bad.

I have had the pleasure of discussing with several writers who have had to talk about critiques in their careers – Dunni, Janus, Trimia, UluthriX, Walt_shakes and others, and I have extracted some nuggets from what they have had to say and included my own thoughts and here it is:

Everybody’s Guide to Critiquing Amateur Bloggers

The writer is not your enemy: I have seen cases where a writer makes a post, and someone comments and says “Better stop writing – this is rubbish!” Come on…there is no monopoly on writing. If someone wishes to express himself via the written word, why should you stop him? Why not try another approach, such as pointing out what exactly you don’t like about his/her writing?

Writers are, as a rule, insecure: Very few writers put up a post and boisterously prance about expecting the praise coming in. I know a few writers who literally tense up after dropping their links on your TL. Why then, you ask, do they put it up if it scares them so? My reply would be: maybe because they need your honest, polite opinion on the piece, with complimentary suggestions about how they can get better? The writer’s ego is a sensitive thing – if I say so myself. Nurture it. Someone may one day look to you and say you were the reason they kept on writing.

Can you take it private? Call me a hypocrite, but I believe in publicly praising people and privately chastising them. If someone makes a post that is below your standards, to what end is it if you lambaste them on the comment page? Don’t you think that, if you mete out harsh criticism on the comment page, the writer may reject it and end up hating you, even though you may have – wisely – commented anonymously? Don’t you think it would be better to hit up the writer (via email, Twitter DM, etc) and gently tell them what you felt was wrong with the post? I believe that if your critique is not merely to come off as ‘smart’ at the expense of another, this would seem a better alternative.

False Praise is as dangerous as heavy criticism: I have seen it all, fam. Your friends who hop on to your blog and go “WOW. Nice”, “Beautiful piece”, “Impressive”, dropping shallow comment after shallow comment (in some cases, I believe the generic comments are as a result of their not even bothering to read what you wrote), inadvertently ruining you, because they do not know that by inflating your undeserving ego, they are making you (the writer) position yourself on a pedestal that you are yet to even start climbing.

Be specific: You do not like a writer’s post? Fine. It’s a free world. But you should tell the writer why you don’t ‘dig’ his/her post instead of giving a vague, denigrating statement. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think there is anything particularly great about this post” and leaving the writer guessing and confused, why not say something more specific, like “Your post was too wordy – cut down on the adverbs – and you should really check your tenses”?That’s better, no?

Tone it down: Yeah, I know we should speak up when a piece is terrible, but we forget that these writers do not think themselves perfect. I always say this: my blog is a training ground for me; the day I feel I have gained mastery of writing, I’ll ditch it. If they thought they were that great, these writers would be somewhere else forcing their 25th manuscript down the throat of a harassed publisher. They are here to hone their skills – and they are writing for free, no one here is paying them. The least you and I can do is tone down the criticism. Let us give the heavy blows to ‘established’ writers whose egos and bank statements justify the rough tackle.

Thanks for reading. I really hope this speaks to someone.


58 thoughts on “A Guide to Critiquing Amateur Writers/Bloggers

  1. Awwww. Very thoughtful of you to write this. Very solid and well written too. I like to think I’m not one of ‘those’ people, still this spoke to me. I see my name up there, come, let’s hug.


  2. Oh yes definitely,Justin never writes like this. I’m proud to say I’m not guilty of any of the aforementioned misdemeanours(yes,na me holy pass). A refreshingly different write-up. Yes I hope it speaks to someone too!


  3. Now this is a fucking good piece. No I won’t tone it down. Firstly I agree with you on the toiling of writers and “our” ( if you’d call me a writer) insecurity. Secondly why do I feel I was the motivation for this post?


    1. LMAOOOOOO. Niggah, I swear I really wanna tension you right now and say you’re the motivation for this piece, but I consider you a pretty good critique. For every time you’ve had to speak against my work – or somebody else’s – you have always had good reason to.

      So, sleep easy. Shalom, Monsieur Woolwich. Live long and replicate.


  4. Writers need all the encouragements and constructive criticism they can get. Asides passion and talent, there’s also the effort chunk. Timely editorial. Good job, Justin. Appreciated.


  5. This is the second piece you’ve written that I have been fascinated with enough to comment on, and that is saying a lot for someone like me. I understand your sentiments and perhaps the reason why this is necessary and maybe even timely.

    I will say that you overlooked two important things; the first of which is this; to emphasize the importance of always trying to comment on every post read. Comments are something published authors rarely ever get, that instant ‘first impression’ feedback on a story. And if the brilliance or esotericity of the piece leaves a reader wordless; then a like or a RT would suffice. Something to say, I read this and want you the writer to know I was here.

    Secondly; like we tell musicians and actors everyday, if one is a terrible writer (especially of fiction and poetry) it would be wicked to not politely encourage them to find another outlet for self expression, one they would excel in. A lie of omission is still a lie and honest readers can help a struggling writer escape a sinking ship long before they drown.


    1. Well, I agree with you on points one and two.

      I believe that a comment is something that should be done to pass a message across – as you said, if you were impressed with a piece, a RT or a like is often enough to convey this to the writer. A comment, or as I have said here, a critique, is a review of the work, giving substantial feedback on the post which was read. I believe published authors, learning the ropes, get those as well, until their writing legs have left the gangly phase and they feel confident enough to publish for mass consumption rather than review.

      Secondly, if I made it appear like fresh writers should not be told when they are obviously not cut out for the field of writing, I apologize. The keyword which you have used – “politely” encouraging them to find another outlet is why this post has been written. I am an advocate of diplomacy in all dealings, and I believe that it is possible – and even better – to edify, rather than pull down, people with your words.

      I am not against negative critique – it wouldn’t be called a critique otherwise since a critique, in the very core of the word, is meant to swing both ways. My gripe is with its administration.

      Thanks for your comment 🙂


    1. LMAOOOOOOOO. Niggah….ah, well. What can I say? We have to do what we can, and hope we can reach as much people as possible.

      And let ur beef with copy-and-paste bloggers die already, fam 😦


  6. Vundie and I are friends, good friends (I think). Hence, I don’t hate nor seek to bring his name down or discredit his work or blog etc etc..
    You see, I needed to put that disclaimer because of the rationale of some of us.
    Okay ehm..I’ll be as plain as I can.

    You don’t get better if you don’t get negative criticism. And I mean in the harshest sense possible! That is the truth. I’ve gotten my own fair share, I would know. Be there waiting for people to tell you; “Get better”, “Yes you can!” You will old in that state you’re in.
    The truth is, you can only get the ‘criticism of the level you’re at’. You’re just starting, you have only 50 people who know you write, chances are no one’s really going to be harsh with you. This is also taking into account the fact that, your work wouldn’t exactly be topnotch either. But when you start to improve, your network does, your readers do and conversely(or not), the sort of critics you meet do. Years before, when I wrote, no one looked at my syntax or sentence structure, it was all..”Wow! See your concept! Where you dey get your inspiration?” Nowadays, after particularly sharp criticisms, I un(sub)consciously watch out.
    It is possible for someone who’s just starting out to get a sharp critique (which may result in suicide), but usually it is because said critic was probably rating you higher than your level, which is a plus in my opinion.
    I could write something that would seem perfect in your eyes, but them Jonathan Yardley them would read and go “Apeshit!” Suicide time? No. Jonathan Yardley read my work! What did I expect? That nigga critiques Robert Greene and Stephen Covey and John Grisham, and I made him read mine. So what do I do? Complain about the criticism, “Eez too harsh na” or get better..

    Anyway..I’ve gone on for long enough.
    Just wanted to air that.


  7. It spoke to me when after I first poked my nose into a tweet that had the link to your blog in it, I read it. It speaks even more words into my ears now that reading it is rightly done as I did so after a mention to my TL on Twitter. I can hear it whisper ”WAKE UP TO YOUR PEN” into my ears. It asks ”GOTTEN THE MEANING OF YOUR COMMONLY USED EXPRESSIONS AS COMMENTS ON PEOPLE’S BLOGS?” softly and yelled ”THERE IS POWER IN YOUR KEYPAD!” … I really do love this. My first visit to your blog will be an evergreen one as I enjoyed all your posts that I read. More grace, bruh!


    1. I saw a tweet from you (I think) where you said you were tired of the constant “cool bro” comments, and that you wanted someone to “tell me my flaws, dammit!”

      I agree.

      Thanks, fam.


  8. Aah. Our superman has come to rescue us amateurs. This almost tempted me to switch on my wi-fi and fire up my laptop to start another night of sleepless keyboard punching. But no sir. I’m sleep bruh.
    Wonderful piece, Vundie 1000. Quite different from the usual tune.


  9. It is a serious issue.
    We are all learning and hence not perfect. A Yoruba adage says that when you beat your child with the right hand, you draw him closer with the left. Criticize but don’t look down upon the writer in utter disgust. They told us Einstein couldn’t read at age four or whatever but he is a great man now even after his death.
    I believe writers are like little children. They need a pat on the head and candy ever so often to make them feel appreciated. A comment can make a writer’s history as said above.
    Janus once told me to look at every negative comment as constructive no matter how harsh.
    Writers, read. If you don’t read you can never write well. Tell friends to read through and point out mistakes before you embarrass yourself.
    I know this comment is scattered but I hope I passed my point(s) across.
    Justin, thanks.


    1. LOL. Coincidentally, the person who spurred me on to write is named Einstein, and he was my room mate in 100L.

      I once wrote a short story on FB, and when Einstein read it, he said: “Good work. Shows that you read. I can’t stand writers who don’t read.” And here you are, Tele, echoing same sentiment.



  10. This boy!

    Thanks for making a case for us little people. I mean, we don’t even get paid! 😥 *calms* u mentioned me twice on twitter, nor gree put my name 4 here, if to say u dey Lagos like this…

    Don’t worry, I go soon come tackle u :p.


    1. LOL. Boss – seeing as my name is the name of one of your characters in “Money Games”, I guess I do owe you one.

      Don’t worry. Amma fix this (hopefully soon)

      Cheers, Boss Derin. 😀


  11. Awwwww this is so Martin Lutherish motivational really. Might just have the courage to put up my writings some day. Thank you (like you wrote it for me) ^^


  12. “Mathematical dwarfs”… I love you, man!
    And yes, I agree with you, as always. Before we castigate a writer we should remember how scary it is to post stuff up for everyone to see. Ask Seun how much babysitting he had to do before I was able to start my blog. (oh yes, this post has also spurred me on to post something new. Soon. Some day.)
    And yes, criticism is beneficial, but the manner and the source are important too. Skin thicknesses vary so harsh criticism from a person one looks up to could either make the writer write better or jump off a bridge.
    But tell me, Vundie, who criticized you and made you write this post? Tell me, let me block him (or her) in a dark alley.


    1. I want to marry your comment, Lizi 😦

      Lol. Thanks. Meanwhile – I didn’t get criticized oh. Not recently, at least. In this case – to be very honest – I am representing interests other than mine ^_^


  13. I’m very sure I’m the inspiration for this post 😀 Well said Vundie! I am of the opinion that the emphasis should be on the writer developing a tougher skin, rather than the reader being more sensitive. We live in a world where nobody likes anybody. So if you are going to be daring enough to put your work out there (a very courageous step, I tell you), you should be ready to get your ass whooped as well. Pardon my German. People will come at you, whether due to beef or good intentions. It’s left to you to make the best of it. I have many friends who write and when one puts up a post, all of us go and ooh and aah over it. It just goes round and round. Then the writer is quick to appreciate such. When there’s an unsavory comment, it’s either it’s totally ignored or these same friends insult the person’s IQ and all what not.
    I suspect that many people are not ready to acknowledge their faults which is human nature. But tbh, positive feedback is great but it won’t really help you grow much. There’s an audience for every kind of crap one can put out there – look at Nollywood, look at our music industry. Negative critique is more likely to help you get better.
    In summary, if you will cry or commit suicide when you get a really negative feedback, maybe you shouldn’t be blogging. Peace


    1. Well said, Phebe. I agree with you largely – not totally, but largely. We live in a world where nobody likes anybody? But I like people (._. )

      I try not to ignore unsavory comments, and lucky me, whenever I do get those, they are usually made by honest people who don’t just want to crap on my post.

      And yeah – you were one of the reasons for this post, of course, you know who is also part of the reason.

      Just to be clear though – I am not against negative critique. I probably didn’t spell that well enough in the post. The idea is to get better. I do not support mediocrity – although I am a lot less vocal about it than most – but all my life, everything I know and have come to be has been as a result of careful nurturing.

      I have lived a charmed life, and I believe that – far as I can tell – the methods that have led me to this point have not been faulty. Critiquing harshly isn’t wrong – it would not be a critique otherwise, like I said. I am only offering an alternative to try by way of this guide. It is the reader/commenter’s choice to adopt or not.

      In the end, when it comes to critiquing, we are all critiques in one way or another. I only urge he who writes to get better and surround himself or herself with writers and books and critiques who help you get better. For me, that would be a not-so-harsh critique. If a harsh critique spurs you on (you sadomasochist, you), I say, swell!


  14. This is very thought-provoking and honest too, well done. I think the anonymity that social media provides makes people say the nastiest, meanest and most horrid things in order to feel better ’bout themselves, which is rather shallow. And am with you on the point you raised ’bout people taking into consideration the fact that most bloggers are still trying to hone their skills and are thus in need of more encouragement. Hopefully, this write-up will speak to as many as will read it, so they can do the needful. Kudos!


  15. someone referred me here today because he thought I knew you from uni. still not sure if I do though.lol.was perusing and I saw this……. you just saved me the stress of writing a post like this, thanks….. Let me carry my thieving fingers and copy and paste in my blog biko 😀 Thanks


  16. You’ve said it all.Someone needs to put this post’s link on a billboard somewhere near 3MB,so the trolls under the bridge would see.Thanks.


  17. Very thoughtful of you to write this. I personally would prefer critiquing to praise alone. When people critique my blog, it gives me the chance to get better. At times, I feel I don’t do it well enough as not a lot of people comment on my blog, even though I try o comment on as many blogs as I can. I really hope that will change and I am working on making sure it changes.


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