The Finding & Care of Critique Partners

Originally posted over at the awesome Kick-Butt Kidlit Tumblr page! If you haven’t checked out the other awesome writers over there, you should definitely do that. 🙂 

It’s no secret. Good critique partners are hard to find and even harder to keep. So where does one go looking for the elusive critique partner relationship? What makes a good critique partner? And how do you maintain that relationship once you’ve found it?

Obviously, I can only speak to my personal experience. A few of my early readers are long-time friends that I know read far and wide, and are honest enough to tell me when something’s working and when it’s not. It’s important to note that these earliest readers are not writers and aren’t true critique partners (since I’m not critiquing for them). The feedback I receive from them is not the same as what I get from another writer and I don’t expect it to be, but it does help me shape things early on. Once I’ve made a pass over their notes, I’m ready to move on to my next set of readers—my critique partners.

I’ve found every single one of my critique partners through the online writing community. Specifically, writing contests. You might not always “win” or “place” in a writing contest, but the relationships and community you’ll find there are the real prizes. For me, introvert extraordinaire, I had to start slowly with Twitter pitch contests, such as Dan Kobolt’s #SFFpit, and eventually worked my way up to more involved contests such as the infamous #PitchWars.

Pardon the comparison, but it’s a lot like dating. You exchange a few light-hearted tweets, maybe retweet each other a few times, favorite even a few more. You talk genre, character, and share what you’re entering in the contest as well as what you’re working on next. “Hey, that sounds great!” someone will say. Eventually, one of you will offer to exchange a chapter or three—and here’s where you have to decide: Can I read this person’s writing more than once? Can they accept critical feedback? Can I accept it from them?

So what does good feedback look like? For me, good feedback is positive, stated as a suggestion, and is actionable. By now most people have at least heard of the “sandwich method”—opening with a few things you liked about the MS and closing with the same, with the critique squished in between. This is a fantastic way to structure your feedback. However, the squishy critique part is easier to take if it’s stated as merely a “suggestion.” But if that squishy critical feedback isn’t also actionable, well, it’s kind of useless. Sounds clear as mud, right?

Not actionable: “Your MC is a jerk.” –This is opinion, first of all, and there’s no suggestion for improvement given. (It’s also pretty rude, but you get the idea.)

Actionable: “I’m having trouble connecting with your MC. Maybe showing how much they care for their students earlier in the MS, or something similar, would help.” –This would be much easier for me to digest as a writer.

It’s a scary thing, sharing your work with a near stranger, but that’s what the initial steps in finding a critique partner require from us. Sometimes you’ll love the writing that’s sent to you and other times you won’t. Most of the time the feedback you’ll get will be worth your time and, unfortunately, other times it won’t.

Remember that good critique partner relationships evolve naturally, so don’t feel as if you have to continue exchanging work if it’s not a good fit for you. Be open, be honest, and be supportive. But most of all, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Happy writing, y’all!

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