Welcome back! Today we have Alexa Bourne talking about how important it is for improving your craft to have good critique partners.
I signed my first writing contract back in December 2011 and I can honestly say I NEVER would have gotten there without my critique partner. Yes, having people tell you how great your story is and how awesome you are is very important, but a true writer needs the person (or people) who will tell her what’s wrong with a story.
My road to my perfect critique partner (CP, for short) wasn’t always easy. In fact, more often than not I had a BAD experience. I had a woman who told me what was wrong and how she would fix it (basically rewriting my story). I had good critiquers who stayed with me through one book but then realized they didn’t want to be writers anymore. I had another critique partner who worked with me during one book and then she and her family moved away and she didn’t want to keep critiquing by email. I had critique partners who didn’t really know how to write (and we didn’t stay partners for long). But I knew I needed someone to help me so I kept looking until I found my perfect critique partner.
Now some people could say they don’t need a critique partner. I’m here to tell you a CP can be crucial to success. Is it possible to get published without a critique partner? Of course, but I honestly believe a good CP is worth her weight in gold. A writer might not be able to step back far enough to view her work professionally or objectively. She could be submitting manuscript pages to friends to read and, while the friends may be willing to help, they may not understand the details included in becoming a professional writer. A good critique partner can be those eyes and that professional guidance.
What is a perfect critique partner? A perfect critique partner is the writer who is right for you at that specific time. It is a person who can give you guidance, who can point out what does and doesn’t work. It is someone you trust to be honest with you and someone you know who wants what is best for you and your work. It may seem simple, but we’re asking people to tell us what is wrong with our babies. We’re asking them to rip apart something we feel great pride and joy in. Hearing your baby is ugly isn’t easy, right? So we need to totally believe in the person giving us that difficult news.
It’s also important that you and your critique partner talk about what you both want in the relationship. The key, as is with most relationships, is communication. If you can’t ask for what you need then you won’t grow as a writer. Some partners only brainstorm with each other and read sections of manuscripts that aren’t making sense. Other partners want to meet or exchange work each week. It’s good to find a partner whose strengths as a writer are different than yours that way you can help each other even more. For example, pace is a main issue for me in my drafts. My CP is excellent at pinpointing where the story begins to drag and when I repeat myself too much. At the same time, I’m really great at catching grammar issues for her, and when the story just doesn’t gel I can usually help her figure out why.
Sometimes a CP can be helpful in another way. When I’ve had a rough writing day, a rejection or a bad review, I’ve sent her some work and asked her to just tell me everything that’s awesome about it. J Do I really believe there’s nothing wrong with that piece? Of course not, but sometimes we just need an ego boost. My relationship with my critique partner is solid enough that she’ll tell me all that’s right on that day and then save all that’s wrong for another round of critiquing.
The right critique partner is invaluable. You can help each other, grow together, and back each other up. It may take quite a while before you find the perfect critique partner for you, but keep looking. Remember how many toads I had to dance with before I found my perfect partner? I guarantee when you do find that perfect partner (or partners), your writing and your future readers will thank you for taking a chance on the partnership!
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Cindy here again!
Thanks for being here, Alexa. So true about finding a critique partner. I don’t know what I would do without mine.
July 11, 2013 at 10:06 am
Thank you for the post Lexi!
I am absolutely looking for a CP and there was an article on CPs in the last Romance Writers Report that really made me think of what took look for in a CP – like someone who’s a newbie (like myself).
I also like how you mention communication: What questions would you recommend asking potential CPs? “How often would you like to meet? Once a month? What would you consider your writing strengths/weaknesses? What do you want to get out of your writing? What is your writing career projection? 5-year plan?” <– Are these too many questions?
How did you find your CP? And where do you go? I don't mind being pushy and I love talking about my writing, but I would also like to respectful of other authors' time because I know mine is so limited.
July 11, 2013 at 3:06 pm
Evelyn, those are great questions! I would also include what specifically are you looking for when you send me your work?
I think I found my critique partners through my local RWA group. I found people that were new like me, or at the same stage, and we started talking and eventually decided to give critiquing a try. I’ve also found CPs when we were both finaling in contest after contest. We became online friends and then just started sending work to each other.
July 11, 2013 at 3:21 pm
Thank you for the response, Lexi. I agree when we meet with our monthly RWA critique group, I like it when the author writes a note asking me (the critique) what they’re looking for/what they are concerned about. It helps me focus on what they’re needing, but doesn’t limit my suggestions.
July 11, 2013 at 10:16 am
Thanks so much for having me! Critique partnering is such an important topic to me and I’m thrilled with the chance to talk about it!
July 11, 2013 at 11:09 am
Hey Lexi – I wouldn’t bother publishing my book if I didn’t have critique partners and beta readers to ‘fix’ what’s wrong with it. They are invaluable to me. I appreciate them more than they will ever know.
I don’t have a ‘single’ critique partner, but having both newbies and experienced authors do critiques is great. Every one of them contributes.
They are a critical part of the writing process, IMO.
Great blog. Thanks.
July 11, 2013 at 3:07 pm
I agree that everyone has something to offer! Sometimes though you do need a more experienced writer to work with you.
July 11, 2013 at 12:38 pm
Thanks for your talk on critique partners. I have a question for you. How do you become a good critique partner? I am a newbie and I have another newbie as a critique partner. At present, we are meeting to have informal write ins as we work on our Nano projects from last year. I would like to become a good critique partner and find or show my partner how to go about it, but I am a little lost at the moment.
July 11, 2013 at 3:09 pm
Laura, great question! Personally, I think you become a good CP by critiquing and being open to learning more about the craft. I also think that if you judge contests you can learn A LOT. I used to judge a lot more than I do now, but I think judging contests can be a huge help.
July 11, 2013 at 1:23 pm
I didn’t have critique partners for my first book, and I believe I would have been saved a lot of rewriting to get it published it I had.
For my second novel, I had three and it was much more polished, with few changes needed by my publishers.
I now have those same three, plus a Regency critique group. I’m convinced my 3rd book will be the best one yet because of their input.
July 11, 2013 at 3:10 pm
Thanks for sharing, Collette! There are some people who choose NOT to use CPs and there’s nothing wrong with that. I, and apparently you, just believe they can make a huge difference.
July 11, 2013 at 3:50 pm
My once-a-month critique group consists of 4 authors who write in different genres, with a common goal of improving the work and moving it into publication. All of us love the word! But each of us has unique strengths. There’s no question my writing has grown my leaps and bounds with their input, and I like being helpful to them as well.
July 11, 2013 at 8:46 pm
Katie, sounds like a great group!
July 11, 2013 at 4:02 pm
Insightful post, Lexi. I have the good fortune to belong to a critique group that includes two talented gentlemen. They provide wonderful ideas for male POV and for guy stuff like hunting and cars. The ladies are great too, catching things that might make a reader wonder what the heck I’m talking about. No story is finished until they’ve run their eagle eyes over it.
July 11, 2013 at 8:47 pm
Ooooh, Pat, I’m so jealous! I imagine the information you get form them is amazing!
July 11, 2013 at 8:47 pm
I’ve heard some people say they don’t like to work with people who write their genre and then I have heard others say they would rather work with someone in their genre. I honestly don’t care as long as that person helps me become a better writer. What do you all think?
July 11, 2013 at 8:55 pm
Lexi, none of the writers in my group write the same genre, but we work together very effectively. Depends on the personalities, I guess.
July 12, 2013 at 1:31 am
Fortunately, I belong to a great group that reviews each other’s work. Although, I like the idea of a more intimate arrangement, with one or two CP(s). Thanks Lexi! Gives me more to think about:)
July 12, 2013 at 9:53 am
Jennifer, I actually belong to a group as well. We have 5 of us in the group, but it’s very informal and we’re more of a cheering section for each other than critiquers. We do occasionally exchange work, but we’re more for keeping each other accountable and for brainstorming plot ideas and problems. I enjoy this group as well.