A good critique partner can change you as a writer. But a good critique partner can be hard to find.
If you’re an introvert, it’s hard to know where to meet the kind of people who could potentially be critique partners. If you’re an extrovert, it’s possible that you’ll jump right into the writer pool and end up making friends–with most everybody.
What’s so wrong with making friends? Nothing, of course. But friendship isn’t the first quality to look for in a critique partner.
Is it possible for two people to be critique partners and friends? Absolutely. I know that to be true in my own partner/friendships. But it requires that the person receiving the critique realize the intentions of the giver–it’s not personal. And it requires that the person giving the critique do it with the right intentions.
There will be a day when you won’t need a critique partner. Instead, you’ll answer to an editor who will expect excellence. Until then, a good critique partner can provide invaluable insight, help improve your writing, and help you learn to thicken your skin.
What should you look for in a critique partner?
1. First and most importantly, find someone who is ahead of you on the writing path. You don’t necessarily need someone who’s multi-published, you just need someone who is at least one step ahead of you; at least one rung up on the ladder. Why? Because they have wisdom and insight to offer. Someone who has an agent obviously writes well enough to be signed. Someone who’s contracted for a couple of novels clearly has the chops to offer advice. Someone who is multi-published obviously has the wisdom you need. Look for someone who’s ahead of you who’s also willing to help. I promise–they are out there.
2. Look for someone who shares your interests. If you write paranormal sci-fi futuristic suspense about martians who rule the galaxy, it might not be a great idea to ask someone who writes sweet romance to critique your work. If you’ve followed #1, that person may have something to offer on the writing technique, but they may have a difficult time getting into the meat and intentions of your story. Someone who shares your interests in genre will better know the elements of what your story needs and how it fits into the market. And they’ll enjoy your type of work which makes it easier to offer a good critique.
3. ASK. You’ll never get someone to evaluate your work if you don’t ask. The worst they could say is no. Social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, Google+) are a great place to connect with like-minded writers who might be willing to help.
4. Ask someone who has the time. Don’t ask a multi-published author who’s currently balancing a year full of book releases and radio interviews. He or she probably won’t have time (and will probably say no). Also, be understanding to your partner’s life. Even if he or she does have the time–they don’t. What? Everyone has a life. Things happen. Life never slows down. And sometimes critiquing your work is not #1 on their to-do list. Be understanding. Be patient.
5. Toughen up. Realize that you are going to get what you asked for– a critique. If you can’t handle criticism, don’t ask for it. When you get the comments back, they won’t all be glowing. Prepare yourself. And realize that this is what you need–this is what will help you grow as a writer. Take the comments in stride. Being defensive about your work isn’t going to make a critique any better. Consider that your partner is trying to help you improve. Take those comments and suggestions seriously.
6. Don’t expect to get to read some of your partner’s work. Not always. The word partnership implies that it goes both ways, but maybe not. You can kindly offer to read their work, but if the person is ahead of you on the publication path, realize that they don’t really need your opinion. This isn’t rudeness, it’s simply fact. They have people giving them valued opinions already–agents, editors, other published writers. Let those people handle it and be thankful that this person is willing to help you.
7. Don’t seek out dozens of critique partners. One, maybe two is all you need. If you have a critique group and that works for you, great. But realize that too many opinions is just like the old cliche “too many chefs in the kitchen.” Too many opinions can destroy your story.
8. Realize that you don’t have to make all the changes your partner suggests. It’s your story, stay true to it. But if your partner is offering wisdom that can help you become a better writer, heed it. Otherwise there’s no point in asking for a critique.
9. If you’re asking a friend to critique you, separate your friendship from your partnership. It might be difficult, but you cannot take the comments and critiques personally. If you do, it can destroy the friendship you have. Value that if the person critiquing your work is truly your friend, he or she only desires to help you.
How can you be a better critique partner?
1. Be honest. You don’t have to be rude with your comments, but be honest about the work you are critiquing. Remember your goal–to help someone else grow and improve.
2. Evaluate why you’ve chosen to critique the work. Are you doing it because you genuinely want to help the author become a better writer, or are you doing it because you’re validating yourself by tearing someone else down? If you are critiquing just to boost your own ego–DON’T. That’s not good for anyone involved.
3. Make sure you have the time. If you’re going to critique someone’s work, take some time to do so. Don’t blow through it, dropping a few comments here and there because you feel obligated to look at it. If you’re going to help, do it with the dedication you put into your own work. If you don’t have the time, be honest with yourself and the author.
4. Don’t re-write. Remember, it’s their story. You’re there to offer general insight into better writing techniques and ways to improve the story, not re-write it yourself. Make suggestions, not changes.
5. Don’t judge the person based on their work. Every person who is devoted to the writing life is going to improve and grow. The fact that they’ve asked for critique shows that they are interested in getting feedback. So don’t judge someone’s writing ability on one piece of work. Instead, look foward to seeing how much they’ve grown from one manuscript to another as they continue to learn.
6. If the author is your friend, separate your friendship from your critique partnership so that you have the ability to offer unbiased opinions and suggestions. As long as you are professional, it’s up to the author to decide how to digest your comments. Remember that you can’t control someone else’s feelings.
Finding a good critique partner, as I know from experience, is a valuable tool that helps you grow as a writer. A good critique partner will encourage you, help you, and celebrate with you as your writing develops. To all the good critique partners out there (especially mine)– I salute you!
Share with me: What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten from a critique? What can you add to the list of “how to be a better critique partner”?