How to Build Your Ideal Critique Partner Relationship
Life is better when you do it together. And your writing is, too!
In last week's post, we broke down objectivity in-depth–what it is, why you need it, and how to gain it. And one of the things we talked about was how working to edit with an objective eye can help you get inside your readers' heads and see your manuscript from their perspectives.
But the only thing better than pretending to be an objective source? Actually having an objective source to give you honest feedback on your manuscript!
When it comes to receiving truly constructive criticism, there are two types of people you want to build relationships with: beta-readers and critique partners. While beta-readers review your manuscript and offer light constructive criticism, critique partners are the people you turn to time and time again for the most honest and insightful feedback.
You can email them about your every writing doubt, call them up in the middle of the night with a new story idea, or even rewrite the same scene and send it to them a thousand times...no matter what, your critique partner will always have your back.
They truly become your best writing friend, and a brutally honest best friend at that. But that's what makes critique partners so great. You know they'll always be honest because they truly want what is best for you and your work.
And you want the same for them.
So are you ready to find your writing bestie? Join me today as we discuss how to find your ideal critique partner and begin building an incredible, lifelong bond. Let's get started!
What is a critique partner?
A critique partner is a fellow author with whom you share and critique your writing on a regular basis.
Each situation is unique. Some critique partners are acquainted in person while others are purely internet-based relationships. They may trade work daily, weekly, or monthly, or on a schedule all their own. And while some choose to share completed scenes or chapters, others may only share small snippets or large portions of their text at a time.
No matter the parameters you and your critique partner set, sharing a close bond with another writer can work wonders for your manuscript and your mindset. The key is in being present, honest, and available, to put in the time and effort it takes to make the relationship beneficial for all involved.
How many critique partners should you have? While one to three is most common, the choice is completely up to you. Just keep in mind that CP relationships work best when you have ample time and energy to share, so it's probably better to keep your writing relationships limited.
Why do you need a critique partner?
Why do you need a critique partner in the first place?
Fantastic question! If you're as shy as many writers are (including myself!), building a relationship that requires you to be ultra vulnerable with your writing probably sounds like a horrible idea. I get it. Your stories are your babies. It can be downright terrifying to let anyone else hold them for a while.
But remember, as wise and talented as you are, your stories need to get out and see the world a bit in order to mature. And sending them off to visit your critique partner is the perfect place to start.
Okay, silly comparisons aside, here are five more reasons why working with a critique partner may be the best thing you ever do for your writing:
1) Ditch isolation. In this digital age, the lonely writer cliché is pretty easy to circumvent. Online writing communities have popped up all over the internet. Twitter chats. Pinterest boards. Facebook groups. Blogs (oh, hey!). It's extremely easy to meet up with fellow writers, even if no one you know in person understands what you do.
Connecting with each and every one of you lovely readers, be it here or on social media, has helped me finally feel like I have a place to belong. And that's amazing!
But despite these incredible relationships, there's still an underlying isolation involved in being a writer. No one gets to know your stories through and through from 140 characters or a quick Facebook post, and sometimes you need someone with that level of familiarity with your work to help you out.
That's where a critique partner comes in.
2. Bounce around story ideas. So what happens when you do form a strong bond with a critique partner? For starters, you can bounce around story ideas!
You know all those plot bunnies that come your way when you're waiting for the bus or making dinner or trying to fall asleep? Yeah, they probably sound fantastic in the moment, but not all of them are worth pursuing.
A quick chat with your critique partner can help you weed through your story ideas, picking out the good, the bad, and the ugly, so you know which ones have potential and which ones just have to go.
3. Ask for advice. Having trouble with a scene? Struggling to understand a character's motivations? Feeling like something just isn't working?
Ding, ding, ding! Your critique partner is here to help.
Making use of their outside opinion can open your eyes to a whole new realm of possibilities and resolutions. They'll be able to give you their best and most honest advice for improving your story...even if that means recommending you ditch something you've come to love.
In any case, you're likely to find their advice invaluable, even if it stings a little.
4) Get out of a rut. Everyone has those days (or weeks) where they just can't move forward. Where they hate everything they write, constantly feel burned out, and even start to beat themselves up for not being a better writer.
This is where your critique partner arrives to be your knight in shining armor.
Writing ruts are almost always a mental block. Fear. Doubt. Emotional exhaustion. Your critique partner will be there to let you know when you need to take a break or and when need a good kick in the pants to stop feeling sorry for yourself and get back to work.
5) Manuscript review. Critique partners often work on a small scale, sharing and receiving feedback on a chapter-by-chapter or scene-by-scene basis. This means they aren't getting that portion of the novel in full context when they give their best critique.
So when you put the finishing touches on your latest draft, you'll probably want someone to look over your entire work, to read and critique it on a grand scale. Who better than your critique partner?
They're already acquainted with your work and have a firm handle on your strengths, weaknesses, and struggles. This means they'll know exactly what to look for when reading your manuscript, and in return, you'll get some of the most constructive feedback you've ever received.
Recognizing Great Constructive Criticism
Though having a critique partner can benefit you and your writing in many ways, the sole purpose of the relationship will always be to give and gain valuable critiques.
The important thing to remember about critiques is that they're meant to provide the author with constructive criticism. Note the word "constructive".
The other day on Twitter, a few of us were talking about how we'd never had a positive critique group experience. Each of us had been in a group at some point during our schooling, and we'd all had terrible memories of the dog-eat-dog style environment they'd fostered.
Now, that's not to say you won't ever have a good time in a critique group. But from my own experience, I can say that there is a huge difference between constructive criticism and straight-up biting critiques.
You see, constructive criticism is truly a two-fold type of feedback. While it does offer critical remarks on the areas of your manuscript that just aren't working, it also gives encouragement and recognition of the areas in which your manuscript excels.
So when reviewing your critique partner's work, remember to include criticism that is truly constructive. A good rule of thumb? If you offer critical remarks on a certain element of your critique partner's manuscript, make sure to also name something about it that you enjoyed.
How do you find a critique partner?
You know that thing I do on occasion where I read your mind? Well, prepare yourselves. 'Cause today, I'm breaking out the telepathy.
Here's what you're probably thinking: "Okay, all of this is great, Kristen. But how in the world do I even find a critique partner to begin with?" Was I right? Or maybe you were just thinking about tacos. You can admit it. I won't judge.
In either case, let's take a moment to talk about finding your perfect critique partner.
First up, you'll want to make sure you're looking for a critique partner who has experience in writing in your genre and age market. This is important because you want to receive critiques from someone who truly understands the type of work you write. This is how you'll get the best possible feedback.
Next up, here are a few ways you can actually find a critique partner:
1) An in-person acquaintance. Lucky enough to have a friend or family member that shares your love of writing? Don't be afraid to reach out to them. Even if you don't know them all that well, chances are they're also looking for someone to share in their writing journey.
It might also be worth tuning in for a free local writing class or workshop. Even a critique group might be worth a shot (my bad experience aside). If you'd prefer to actually speak with your critique partner in person--as opposed to an email or video chat--take some time to seek out someone in your neighborhood.
Putting yourself out there can go a long way. After all, the worst someone can do is say no.
2) Online writing communities. You know those Twitter chats and Facebook groups and blog communities (oh, hey!) we talked about earlier? They probably helped you get acquainted with a lot of great writers who are also interested in finding a critique partner.
If you have a particular someone in mind, get in touch with them privately via email or direct message. Let them know that you admire their involvement in your writing community and that you'd love to help them out however you can.
Offering your own services is key. Make it clear you're looking for a critique partner to build a relationship with, but never demand they critique your work or give you feedback. That's the surest way to turn them off collaborating with you.
(Psstt...did you know that She's Novel has a Facebook group for subscribed readers? Click here to learn more and to join the group today!
I'd love to hear your thoughts and stories. Do you have any additional tips for finding your ideal critique partner? How has working with a critique partner helped you improve your writing? Share in the comments below!