How to Build an Ideal Critique Partner Relationship
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Life is better when you do it together — and your writing life often is, as well.
In a recent article here at Well-Storied, we discussed the importance of editing with objectivity. But sometimes, even the most objective lens we can conjure just isn't enough to help us craft the very best versions of our books. Sometimes, it's a second pair of eyes that can really make all the difference as we work to elevate our stories.
Of course, that second pair of eyes can come in many forms: alpha or beta readers, editors, and, as we're going to discuss today, critique partners. Just how valuable an experience can it be to work with a critique partner? And how can you go about finding and building such a relationship? Let's break down everything you need to know in today's article!
What is a critique partner exactly?
A critique partner is a writer with whom you share and critique work on a regular basis. They aren't necessarily someone you co-write stories with, but they should be someone that you can consider a partner in your writing life. Their influence, in many cases, extends far beyond a little critical feedback during edits.
Many writers form strong friendships with their critique partners and choose to lean on one another not only for critique but for advice and encouragement through every step in their writing lives. And in our modern era, many critique partners never even meet in person, instead forging relationships through email and social media.
Every critique partner relationship is, of course, a little different. Some trade work and advice daily or weekly, while others forge their own unique schedules that work around life's many chaotic complications. So long as the partnership works well for both writers, there's really no wrong way to go about being critique partners.
Some writers even maintain relationships with multiple partners or participate in critique groups. The choice is really up to you. What matters most is that the relationship(s) you forge are supportive, honest, and available, helping you improve both your manuscripts and your mindset as you wend your way through this wonderful writing life.
Should you work with a critique partner?
Many writers benefit greatly from critique partner relationships, though they certainly aren't a necessity when it comes to building a happy, healthy writing life. If you're on the fence about whether pursuing such a relationship would be right for you, here are a few questions you can ask yourself today:
#1: Am I lonely in my writing life?
Writing is often a lonely endeavor. If you're feeling lost or alone in your writing life and wish that you could make a connection with other writers, forging relationships with a critique partner or two can go a long way toward fending off your creatives blues.
#2: Do I need help staying motivated and/or accountable?
If you often find it difficult to sit down and write, you may benefit from the healthy external pressure a critique partner can provide. Not only can a critique partner hold you accountable to your goals and deadlines, but they can offer up a few invaluable pep talks when writing ruts come your way.
#3: Do I enjoy having someone to bounce ideas off of?
Struggling to understand a character's motivations? Not sure what story concept to explore next? Feeling like something just isn't working? Two heads are always better than one, my friend. Having a critique partner means you'll always have access to a listening ear and perhaps even a helpful second opinion.
#4: Am I ready to look at my work analytically?
A large part of any critique partner relationship is receiving critical feedback on your work. If you aren't willing to hear a few hard truths or critical suggestions and then take them into account as you work to intentional improve your writing, you likely aren't ready for this type of relationship.
#5: Am I willing to give the same energy I want to get?
Unlike working with beta readers or an editor, critique partner relationships should equally beneficial, with each writer receiving support and healthy criticism from the other. If you don't have the time or energy to invest in another writer's life, working with a critique partner won't be right for you.
But how do you find the right critique partner?
Think building a relationship with a critique partner might be right for you? Fantastic!
Finding the right critique partner begins with tapping into the writing community. You can do this in person if you happen to know a fellow writer or if a local school or library hosts a writer's group. Or, you can choose to get involved in a few online writing communities, such as the Well-Storied Facebook group or our #StorySocial Twitter chat.
In some ways, critique partner relationships are a bit like their romantic counterparts. Some blossom out of existing friendships while others are forged by putting yourself out there and making a few new acquaintances. Remember, there's really no wrong way to build your partnership so long as both writers benefit equally.
But don't just rush into any old relationship, however. Make sure to take the time to find the right partner for you and your stories. Below, let's discuss a few factors you'll want to consider as you seek out the right relationship:
#1: Needs and desires.
Before you even begin looking for a critique partner, take the time to define what you want from the relationship. What kind of support are you looking for? How often would you want to receive feedback? How would you prefer to communicate, and what boundaries would you want to set?
#2: Genre and age market.
Your critique partner doesn't need to write the exact same style of story as you do, but if you want to receive truly valuable feedback on your work, you'll need to forge a relationship with someone who has a strong understanding of your genre and age market.
#3: Level of Experience.
Generally, critique partners find themselves in similar positions in their writing lives. This is how they can offer one another the best feedback and support. It's perfectly okay to find a mentor to invest in your writing life, of course, or to mentor another writer yourself. But when it comes to a true critique partner relationship, you'll likely want to find someone who's on the same playing field.
Giving and receiving constructive criticism...
Working with a critique partner can be an invaluable experience, but it's vital that both partners understand how to give and receive constructive criticism. Receiving criticism is a vulnerable experience, and if one or both writers don't recognize and respect the other's position, critique relationships can quickly become unhealthy.
Constructive criticism is just that: constructive. It is an act of building up, not tearing down. True constructive criticism doesn't hesitate to point of areas of weakness, but it does so without hint of arrogance or derision. It recognizes that good writing and storytelling are, in many ways, subjective and works to share both suggestions and encouragement.
If you're in the right mindset to receive a little constructive criticism and you're confident you've found a partner who's willing to give and receive the same, then don't hesitate to dive deep into your new writing relationship. I have no doubt that you'll find working with a critique partner to be revolutionary in your writing life.