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  • How to Choose Writing Critique Partners

    Posted on January 31st, 2011 jean 6 comments

    I have been blessed with several wonderful critique partners, all of whom bring certain skills to the table and push me to improve in different ways. I can say with confidence that I would not be where I am today without their assistance.

    While I completely and utterly lucked out with my writing critique partners, lately I’ve noticed a few others haven’t always been so lucky. Choosing a writing critique partner can be very tricky. (If you can, pair up with at least two other writers.) There are so many things to take into account–genre, skill level, depth of critiques, time available, personality, etc.

    So… how do you go about figuring out who is right for you when it comes to writing critique partners?

    Personally, I would start by finding people who are interested in the same genre, or at least enjoying reading quite a bit in your genre. That goes both ways. For example, it’s difficult to do a good job of critiquing and enjoying sci-fi if you never read it. And that sci-fi writer may have trouble with critiquing and enjoying your teen romance. Critiquing is difficult enough without trying to fake enthusiasm for something that just really doesn’t turn your crank as a reader. (And I don’t recommend family or friends because chances are they aren’t going to give it to you straight, nor are they going to look for all the things another aspiring writer will look for.)

    Skill level can be a tricky one. Ideally, you want the skill level to be somewhere close to on par. But you also want someone who is going to challenge you and help you improve. The lovely thing about this is that all writers have a few things that they are best at, and generally, we all have different skill sets–even if we are sitting at approximately the same skill level.

    Why do I think being at the same skill level is somewhat important? Well, someone who is just starting out may need more in-depth critiques and time than say, someone who has written many manuscripts and is always learning from workshops, etc., and generally, has spent more time honing their craft. Plus, when there is a difference in ability, the critiques can become unbalanced. It can be hard for a newbie to find things in a more ‘experienced’ writer’s work or even have the confidence to point it out. On the flip side, the newbie may feel a bit slammed when the more experienced writer finds something to be fixed in every sentence.

    Depth of critiques ties in with skill level in some ways. If you are putting the final polish on your manuscript, chances are you are looking for someone who has a keen eye and will pounce on every little error and bring up every little nitpick. However, if this is the first time sharing your work, having every little nitpick brought to your attention can be completely devastating.

    Time available is another biggie. What if you want to blast through a whole manuscript in 30 days whereas the other person is thinking it would be good to swap a chapter a month? Will you be able to find a balance? (Critiques can take a long time. More than twice as long as simply reading a piece. Especially if you take the time to ensure your comments aren’t super-harsh sounding.)

    Personality can be huge. If you are shy about sharing your work and often refer to your story as your baby, hooking up with a writer who is very blunt and to the point can be difficult when it comes to self-esteem maintenance. You may be looking for someone who offers as much praise as criticism or someone who couches their criticism in compliments and only points out the big issues.

    If I could offer just one piece of advice on choosing a critique partner, it would be to know what you want/need before you go looking. And once you have a few folks that you want to approach, offer to share one chapter first as a trial–I recommend sharing after you have discussed expectations. After the critique, sit back and let it sit for a day or two (sometimes it takes a day or two for the stinging to go away and for you to realize that this person has just made the biggest discovery EVER in how to improve your story/writing). If, after a few days, you don’t like the way their critiques have made you feel, then move on. (Be sure to thank them though!) Same goes for if you can’t possibly choke your way through more of their work. We don’t love every book in the bookstore, so it is natural not to love every just-written book out there.

    While the idea of sharing your work with someone with the intent of gaining criticism can be nerve wracking, it has some very sweet, unexpected bonuses as well. In my case, my writing critique partners are not just a source of ongoing support from folks who truly understand, but they are also someone to bounce ideas off of. And finally, they have also become some of my greatest friends and greatest cheerleaders. And who can’t use a little friendship and support in this isolated endeavour called writing?

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    A few places to start your search for writing critique partners:

    AgentQueryConnect Wanted Ads

    Blogs–find an aspiring writer or group of aspiring writers and approach them

    Conferences/Workshops

    Writers groups

    Authonomy

    WEbook discussion boards

    NaNoWriMo discussion boards

    Really, anywhere aspiring writers hang out and share their work, or even just hang out is a great place to get to know potential partners a little better and approach them about a swap.

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    Do you have a critique partner? Where did you meet them? Any advice, tips, or warnings about choosing a critique partner?

     

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