For me, writing isn’t a solo endeavor. The words may originate in my mind and find their way onto the page, but I’d be lost without my critique partners.
We are so invested in our words that it’s often impossible to look at them objectively. The mere thought of losing a single line or character or nuance is horrific, because we are brilliant and the story is perfect and cutting even the smallest piece of our manuscript would be tragic.
Hell to the no.
This is the time to be ruthless. To cut and slash and burn the excess until you have a tidy package covered in glitter and sparkles. Since such actions are tantamount to torture for writers, critique partners become invaluable.
When critiquing work for another writer, it’s important to sandwich the negative between positive feedback. Start with what works, what you absolutely LOVE, then explain what you feel needs improvement. Once again, finish with some positive words. Honesty is the key. Critique partners who blow rainbows up my butt do me no good. They are a hindrance to my growth as a writer. The partners I work with point out issues with plot, pacing, character development, voice issues, poor word choices, and typos.
Being open to the process is tantamount, but, inevitably, when I read a critique, I go through the following stages of grief:
Stage One: THIS PERSON IS A MORON WHO DOESN’T GET MY STYLE OR KNOW THE FIRST THING ABOUT WRITING.
Stage Two: Okay…maybe she’s not completely insane. There might be one thing she’s right about.
Stage Three: Yep. She is a genius. I need to rip this sucker apart and glue it back together.
When attacking changes, remember that you don’t need to make every fix suggested. A big part of becoming a writer is learning how and when to trust your gut. This often comes over time. It’s still important to mull over issues brought up by your partner, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow suggestions blindly. I often sit with feedback for a while. I let the problems marinate while I’m exercising or cooking, or doing anything but writing. Once I have a sense of which things should be fixed, I make a to-do list. An order of operations on how to attack the piece. Baby steps are the key.
I found my current critique partners through Pitch Wars. I usually work with three people, not as a group, but we swap chapters or manuscripts individually as needed. One reads, gives me feedback, I freak out, and then I revise. I do this one or two more times with someone new. Once I’ve revised the crap out of my piece, I give it to my agent, who offers her two cents, and then it goes into my editor. And guess what? I get to do content edits all over again! This is what makes a good book great. Willingness to rework a piece is what being a writer is all about.
Some other places to search for critique partners: Absolute Write Water Cooler, Agent Query Connect, Ladies Who Critique, Romance Critters, and Romance Writers of America. Even places like Goodreads and Wattpad have forums through which you can find partners in your genre.
Two important ground rules when choosing critique partners:
1. Swap first chapters before committing to a longer relationship. Ensure your writing styles mesh.
2. Discuss length of time critiques should take. If you need work back in a week or two, and someone can’t turn it around for a couple of months, you won’t be a good fit.
Not only are critique partners vital for the success of my manuscripts, but mine have become my closest friends—people who support me during the ups and downs of this crazy business, something all writers need. I would be lost without them.
Best of luck to you on all your writing endeavors!
Kelly is the author of CHASING CRAZY, MY PERFECT MISTACE, and A FINE MESS, all published through Grand Central’s Forever Yours. A small-town girl at heart, she moved from the city to open a cheese shop with her husband in northern Ontario. When she’s not neck deep in cheese or out hiking, you can find her, notepad in hand, scribbling down one of the many plot bunnies bouncing around in her head.