Tag Archives: critique partner

How To Find And Be a Better Critique Partner

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”?

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Your Story, Their Opinions: Tuning Out Subjective White Noise

I’m at the point in my current story where I’m almost ready to turn it over to let some folks read it. Some folks who aren’t me.

And I’m shaking in my boots. (Rain boots, as it were, since I’m pretty sure The Ark is going to float by my window any moment…)

I always get really nervous at this point in crafting a novel. Why? Because I know the opinions are about to come flying at me at 900 miles an hour. But I’ve learned a thing or two over the past few years, so no matter what, I’m ready.
 
The art of crafting a story is definitely just that–art. And art is subjective.

20 people read the same book: 5 will think it’s the best book they’ve ever read, 5 will think it was “okaaaaay, but…”, 5 will say they didn’t even finish, and the last 5 will rip it to shreds and find every single reason to hate it–just because.

Subjectivity at its finest.

Subjectivity is the combination of someone’s opinion with their circumstances (are they in a good mood or did their cat just die?). It’s their own preference combined with their life experience.

No two people are ever going to look at art the same way–whether it’s a book, a painting, a song, or one of those weird statues made of garbage. Some will love, some will hate. That’s just the way it goes.

So when you turn your manuscript over to inquiring eyes you’ve asked to read it, consider the following: you will get what you’re asking for.

So what do you do when you have opinions flying at you from all different directions? How do you weed out the opinions that might help and kill the opinions that might hurt? How do you stop the white noise from destroying your story?

Tuning Out the Subjective White Noise

1. It all starts with the eyes–and the eyes you choose matter. When you are an unpublished writer who doesn’t have an editor on speed-dial and your story is in the pre-published stage, it’s very important to get feedback on it. You need to know what you’re doing right and where you need some work. So the most important thing you can do is choose valued readers who can help. Valued readers are the ones who have knowledge you need: Critique partners, writer-friends, people who are familiar with your genre of writing, your agent, paid critiques, etc.

Notice who I didn’t put on that list? Mom. Not that I don’t think Mom should read it–she should. But her opinion is less valuable to you because, let’s face it, she’s going to tell you it’s wonderful no matter what. And her opinion, while good for your spirit, should be considered part of the “white noise.” Also in the white noise category? Your best friend. Your buddy at the gym. Your spouse. The chic in the Mommy&Me group who doesn’t really read but promised that she’d read yours. The point is, when picking readers, be picky. Choose people who have opinions that will add value to your story. And remember that your story is in the early stages so keep the number of readers at a reasonable level–do you really want the whole world reading it before it’s been tweaked and polished to perfection?

2. Prepare yourself. A story is like a child to an author. You’ve named it. You’ve nurtured it. You’ve loved it through good times and bad. So when someone offers an opinion (good or bad), it’s very easy to take it personally. Before your turn your story over to be read, prepare your heart. Pray about your receptiveness to what is being said. If you’ve chosen quality readers, the opinions you get will hold more weight, so you need to be ready to hear them with an open mind and an open heart.

3. Swallow your pride. Although your story is like a baby and you think it’s perfect–it’s not. There will always be opinions that will say you should change or work on certain things about your story. Subjective, yes, but be willing to make changes if they need to be made. There’s no point in soliciting opinions if you aren’t willing to make changes.

4. You are the author of your story–why is this an easy thing to forget? There are some who love nothing more than to put their own touches on your work. At this stage of your writing game, that’s not their job. They may make suggestions about things you should change, but be confident enough in your story and its lesson/point/essence and your own writing ability to know what to change and what to keep. If you aren’t careful, you can let someone else makeover your story until it’s not yours anymore.

5. In order to be strong with #4 above, you have to know the essence of your story. You have to be connected with your own message and voice. In his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer, Dwight V. Swain talks about the importance of understanding the “feeling” of your story. The feeling is yours. The feeling is what drives your characters and your plot. And the feeling is what shapes the writing rules you use. If you are in tune with that feeling, you’ll know what suggestions will work for your story and what won’t.

6. Be strong enough to say no. Just because someone suggests changes to your story doesn’t mean you have to make them. However, keep in mind that if you’ve chosen the right readers, suggestions they make should be worth looking at because hopefully they will only improve your work. Learn to balance suggestions and your story’s feeling.

7. No one has power over your story but you. You are the only one who can make the changes you need to make and you are the only one who understands the feeling of your story. Therefore, you are the only one who can decide what works for your story and what doesn’t. Anything that doesn’t work for your story is white noise. Any opinion that removes the essence of what you are trying to convey is white noise. Any person who tries to make your story into theirs–white noise.  Anyone who takes away your unique voice–white noise. Value those opinions that begin by valuing what you are doing with your work.

We’ve all gotten good & bad feedback on our writing. It’s what we do with that feedback–how we react to it and what we change within our writing that crafts our stories and molds us as an author.

Get ready. It’s coming. But you and your story can both make it through.


Share with me: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in a critique? What’s the worst?

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Wannabe Writer-itis

I’m an author.  I create stories that are inspired, gifted, and brilliant, with characters who overcome challenges that no normal human could face, yet they do it with such grace and dignity that they will change the lives of all those who dare to read and process the amazing-ness that is my novel.

But you can’t read my novel because I haven’t written it yet, actually.

-or-

I haven’t queried to an agent or editor.

-or-

I have never read anything on the process of crafting a well-written story, because I don’t need to.  I’m good like that.

-or-

I don’t care for critical comments about my writing.  My stories are perfect the way they are.

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It doesn’t matter what my query letter says, my novel is what’s important.

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I’ll just self-publish so that I can avoid anyone who might want me to make changes to my work.


I am a wannabe writer.

I suffered from wannabe writer-itis myself.  Even though I had actually written more than one complete novel, even though I had taken the leap to establish representation, even though I had let several people read my novels and give me feedback, I was severely lacking in one area.

I had never read anything on the writing process.

I thought my stories were great.  I thought they were inspired.  Especially the first novel I ever wrote– a historical romance set in 1820s England.  Oh, how I love those characters I created!

But then I started getting feedback on it from people in the writing biz.  And I’m thinking, “no…no…how can they not like it?  It’s fabulous!”

My critique partner (God brought her to me specifically to help me grow in my writing and to be like, the soul-sister I never knew I had) gave me some feedback.  And it was horrible, rip my heart out, this-story-needs-tons-of-work kind of feedback.  But it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

And so, out of humility, because I know I need to constantly be growing and learning if I’m going to succeed as a writer, I picked up several books at the library on the writing process and ordered a few more from Amazon.

Keep in mind that I am a history major with a master’s in education, and the only writing course I took in college was my freshman year.  My professor had his own theories on writing and had written his own textbook, which of course, he required each one of us to purchase.  The only thing I remember from his course is that he would walk around the room and throw around the phrase, “damn zippy.”  Yeah, I didn’t glean a whole lot of info from him.

So with pen in hand, I started reading through the library books and taking notes.  (I felt like I was in college again, but I love being a nerd like that.)

At first I was excited.  “Yes! Yes!” I’m thinking as I was reading.  I realized that I am doing many things correctly as a writer!  Then I got to the “Things You Should Never Do” in a romance, and my stomach dropped as I read the list.  In my beloved first manuscript, I had made Every.Single.One. of the mistakes an author should never make.  From the characters to the plot, I realized that my first manuscript, the one that inspired me to become a writer in the first place, was complete drivel.

For two seconds I considered throwing in the towel.  I almost succombed to the worst of the wannabe writer-itis symptoms– discouragement.

And then I paused and asked myself a question.  Do I want to be a writer?

And the answer is YES. 

If you are suffering from wannabe writer-itis, here are a few tips for curing your condition:

1.  Own it.  As my wise and encouraging friend Colleen once said, “you aren’t trying to be a writer, you are a writer.”  Now be one.

2. Read books on the writing process.  Yes, God can inspire our words and ideas, but we need to learn how to convey those words and ideas correctly into a sell-able novel that will reach others.  Learning the craft will help you take the inspired words and ideas and turn them into a book that makes sense and conveys the messages and themes you intend for it to convey. Our brilliant and inspired stories don’t do any good if no one will ever have a chance to read them.

3. Join a writer’s organization.  Whether it’s a local group or a national one, being involved in a writer’s organization will put you in contact with people who know the world of writing and publishing.  It will help you network and make connections that could eventually lead to publishing, if that’s your desire.

4. READ.  Read books by authors in the genre in which you would like to write.  The more you read, the more familiar you’ll be come with the genre.  Don’t attempt to write in a genre you’ve never read.

5. Attend a writer’s conference.  I will be attending my first one this year, ACFW.  (American Christian Fiction Writers).  The wealth of information that will be offered in the classes is overwhelming.

6. Write.  Complete a manuscript.  I put this one last on purpose, because it’s actually the last thing you should do.  Most people think that this is the first thing that a writer should do, but if you want to write something that’s not “drivel,” I suggest you work on the other steps first. 

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to do some serious rewrites on one of my manuscripts.  I hope that when I’m finished it will no longer resemble “drivel,” and instead will be a readable piece of work that will inspire others.

Share with me:  What do you think is the most difficult part of the writing biz?

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