Improve Your Editing by Writing Yourself a Bad Review

We all hate the critic in our heads. You know the one—talks with a nasal accent, uses words like “deluded numbskull” and “insufferable incompetent,” and never fails to announce that your latest story is tripe. This critic of ours never seems to have a good word to say and is always running us down. So, naturally, we try to block the voice out as much as possible.

But what if we were to actually give this inner critic permission to speak every now and then? What if these grumblings and mumblings had something of benefit to offer us?

Think about it. We’re used to gritting our teeth, shutting out the soul-battering harangues of our infernal internal editor, and writing the best stories we can. Then we send our poor shivering darlings out into the world to face something even worse than our inner critics (cue thunder and scary music duhn-duhn-duh-DUH)—the outer critics of critique partners, agents, editors, and, perhaps scariest of all, readers.

How much better would it have been had we listened to our inner critic’s helpful, if admittedly snarky, advice before we submitted ourselves to the censure of the writing world at large?

One of the best and easiest ways to harness the inner critic’s laser-like perception of your writing’s weak points is to write yourself a bad review.

Why would you want submit yourself to that kind of depressing degradation?

Quite simply, because as painful as it may be, acknowledging your faults is the best way to overcome them.

6 Steps to Write Yourself a (Useful) Bad Review

Sit yourself down at your desk, pretend you’ve just read your story for the first time, put on your best nasally accent, and start writing your review from the perspective of someone who noticed your story’s every single flaw.

1. Have Fun With It

Since you must face your faults, you might as well do it with aplomb. Turn up the snob level, write hyperbolically, and just generally give yourself permission to make this onerous assignment as snarky and witty as possible.

2. Be Instinctive

Your inner story sense knows more about what’s wrong with your writing than your conscious brain does. In your first pass over the story, don’t think too hard about what you’re writing. If something bugs you—even if you’re not quite sure why—write it down.

3. Be Specific

Once you’ve got your instinctive list of problems out of the way, go back and flesh them out. Where you wrote “weak plot,” dig a little deeper to identify why it’s weak. The more specific you are, the better your chances of understanding how to fix the problem.

4. Be Thorough

Review the entire plot. Analyze every character. Skim through the manuscript, page by page, to make certain you’re remembering everything wrong with the story. This is where your ruthless side needs to take the lead. Don’t let yourself get away with so much as a single weak chapter ending.

5. Analyze Objectively

Once you’ve finished your snarky, snobby, nitpicking review, go back over it with an objective eye. Make certain everything you’ve written down really is a problem—and not just an overreaction from that part of you that wants to believe nothing you write is any good. Depending on how hard you usually are on yourself and how objective you are about your failings, you may want to take a couple days to recover before looking over the list.

6. Create a Plan of Action

Finally, and most importantly, decide what you’re going to do to fix all these problems. If your critic’s disparagements were legion, try dividing them into categories: plot, characters, pacing, etc. Then make a chronological list if everything that needs fixing—and what you can do to improve them.


Writing a bad review can be rough business. But don’t let it dampen your self-esteem. Use it as a building block to face your writing weaknesses and rise above your mistakes. Then, after you’ve finished your rewrite, give a try to writing the “perfect” review!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Does writing a “bad review” of your story sound like fun? Or scary? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. I like your thinking. Personally I do both (writing and reviewing) so it’s an interesting exercise to do. Would give a interesting perspective to a work I’m having hard time gaining any form of perspective on. Takes balls to do it, even more to propose to do it. I like your style, Mrs. Weiland.

  2. Being hard on ourselves is never fun, and the discomfort only increases when we push ourselves to be as incisive in our criticism as we can. But the insight we can gain is definitely worth the pain. Thanks for reading!

  3. This is a good exercise and will probably help to weed out lots of problems in one’s WIP

  4. And anything that weeds out problems is always a good thing!

  5. It would be fun to use the bad review as an opportunity to mock the goons who normally write bad reviews. A lot of them never even seem to have seen the book they’re reviewing, let alone read it.

  6. Yes! Good catharsis and good preparation for the inevitable bad reviews, both.

  7. My biggest problem is being *too* hard on myself. My inner critic says all my work is garbage. If I listened to him, I never would have published anything. 🙂 But I do agree the exercise is a valid one, especially if one never lets the critic speak.

    I personally do let it out to poke holes in the story I then fix. Afterwards, I stuff him back into the box and send the story out.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      One exercise that can prove helpful is determining when the inner critic is speaking logically and when it is speaking “emotionally.” Saying “your work is garbage” isn’t specific enough to be logical, so it’s probably emotional and therefore driven by something other than the story’s actual problems. If you can’t drill down to an actual logical problem underneath the criticism, you can feel safe in ignoring it.

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