Jersey Farm Scribe here on:
Matchmaking for Writers: Critique Partners
It’s your baby, your pride and joy. It’s put you through countless cups of coffee, frustration and tears, drizzled with moments of incomparable joy when things just click. Fingernails have been shredded, dishes have piled up, and sleep?? You’ve basically forgotten what that is.
And now you’re supposed to let someone else actually READ it????
AND CRITIQUE IT???
But what if they don’t understand?? They don’t know the characters like I do!! How can I just hand it over to someone else, basically for the sole purpose of being criticized?
What am I? A masochist?
You want the honest answer? It’s simple. The answer is: Yes. Yes, you are. J
Here you are, actively seeking someone who will point out the flaws in your work… the more the better. And it’s going to hurt.
But you don’t want people to just tell you they loved it and what a great writer you are. Well… you do (or at least I certainly do! Sometimes I just need that motivator, that lift, that person that makes me feel good about my work, and myself). But that’s what your friends and family are for! If you do happen to be friends with your critique partners, you need to separate that friendship from the critique process.
It’s incredibly nerve-wracking to hand your manuscript to someone else. And it’s exciting at the same time. This means you have something complete enough for someone to actually read! Go you!! Now you have to be brave enough to let them.
Finding the Right Partners
There is a balance in a good critique partner that just fits. And like most relationships, it’s almost hard to put into words. (Unfortunately there is no eHarmony for us!) Finding the right person or people makes all the difference in what you get out of the process.
Here are a few things I look for:
Praise and critique combo: Everyone has a balance here. Rarely will you find someone who would just say “this stinks”. Most people will balance negatives will some level of positive. But personally, I want someone who isn’t afraid to tell me about major holes or plot arcs that they don’t think work, even if it means a huge re-write. But, for that ego side of me, I also need someone who can also point out a think or two that they DO like, and even better, WHY they like it. This also helps me see my own strengths so I can guide my writing in that direction in the future.
Relative Match in Style: While I don’t think the genres need to match, there does need to be some common ground. Someone who writes zombie thrillers may not be on the same page as a picture book author. Personal beliefs can come into play here as well. Some people believe strongly in books that push boundaries, others in the value of simplicity and comfort more within those same boundaries. Certainly neither person is right or wrong, but the two would probably not make good critique partners.
They GET Your Writing: You don’t want someone who is going to push you to be anyone other than the true writer inside you, so you need them to appreciates your voice. If your voice as a writer comes through as an edgy, jaded teenager from a broken home, and your critique partner only likes upbeat, bubbly writing, they’re going to want your writing to be less… you. No one can (or should) please everyone. No writing voice pleases everyone either. You need someone who will encourage the voice inside you to come out.
You Love THEIR Writing: Critique partners is often set up as an exchange. My critique partners are people whose writing I highly respect, I enjoy reading their work, and I learn from their writing. You want someone who you can build a mutual relationship with over time, sharing the ups and downs and exchanging motivation.
Good Communication: Are you looking for just a few comments? Line edits? Overall thoughts? At different stages in the process you may be in need of completely different types of critiques. For example, if you’re submitting to an agent in two days, you may be looking for typos, simple fixes, odd word usage, but NOT major character or plot changes. You need to be able to trust that you can communicate that to them without a problem.
Good critique partners are worth their weight in GOLD. I have been so lucky to have found a few who are amazing, and it really is hard to put into words. Their feedback has been helpful, not just for that particular manuscript, but has given me perspective on my writing that flows forward into all my work.
And as I’ve said before, like Kathy said to me the first time she gave me a critique. critiques are SUGGESTIONS NOT INSTRUCTIONS. It’s important to be open-minded, and put serious non-biased consideration (at least as non-biased as possible) into every one. But don’t feel pressured to take them all. A good critique partner will also never be offended if you didn’t take their suggestions.
Critiques are an important part in the journey of writing and publication. It may take a few tries to find the partners that work best for you. But it’s important to keep looking, because good critique partners can really help you bring your manuscript, and your writing in general, to the next level.
So take the plunge, send work out to be read by others, and find the critique partners that work for you.
Because your manuscripts are worth it!
Thank you Erika for another super article. I am sure everyone will enjoy reading this.
If you are looking for a critique group, you should look first to your local SCBWI Chapter. They should be able to set you on the right path. Plus, don’t forget you can find other writers from around the country to work with online.