Why You Need Critique Partners – Critique Series Part 1
January 28, 2019
Over the last few weeks, my Twitter feed has been ablaze with talk about critique partners and critique groups. Folks were tweeting about all aspects of critiquing; why should they need a critique partner? How does one find CPs? What’s the best way to start a critique group? Folks needed help! My heart went all aflutter because this is something I know a little about. As co-founder and leader of the Tall Pines Fiction Writers, I thought I’d share my experiences with critique partners and groups, because I’m a strong believer that every writer needs a good critique support system. That’s why today I’m kicking off a four-part series on critiquing with part one: why you need critique partners.
Before we begin, let’s address the giant, trumpeting elephant stomping in the corner, shall we? That elephant’s name is Defensiveness. I’m going to be brutally honest here so fair warning. If you call yourself a writer, you need to be able to take constructive criticism. You need to understand that negative feedback on one book, story, paragraph, or sentence is NOT an overall commentary on your talent or entire body of work. If objectively looking at your work and revising where its lacking is not something you’re willing to do, back away from your laptop now and stop asking how you can become a better writer. This is one of many steps to improving your craft, but you have to actually listen to people with an open mind and heart and not take it personally.
That said, in no way am I asking you to accept rude, mean, hurtful, or insensitive comments. You deserve respect from all of your critique partners, and if someone is making you feel bad, walk away. Overall, the critique process should be exciting and enjoyable. Don’t expect it to be entirely devoid of stress or anxiety, we’re sharing our most vulnerable parts of ourselves, after all. But you should walk away feeling excitement and energy from the feedback you’ve received, not beaten down and discouraged by it. If you’re feeling the later more than the former, it’s time for new critique partners.
These Are Your People
Only other writers truly understand the endless multitude of struggles we face in the fight to be read.Why do you need critique partners, exactly? Well, have you ever wondered if you were doing this writing thing right? Of course you have. So imagine someone who gushes over your words when you’re worthy of it and wags their finger at you for falling back on your old crutches. A colleague with whom to celebrate the triumphs of storytelling and commiserate over the horror that is the query letter. Someone who gets you and your struggle to piece together sentences that make their hearts weep. They see your flaws, your weaknesses, and help you overcome your challenges and struggles with writing. They recognize and praise your strengths, improvement, and growth.That, my friends, is the successful critique partner relationship, and I think every writer can benefit from one. Or five.
I mean, obviously, right? We already know this and it’s the reason we seek out critique partners. A critique partner can help you see all your plot holes and confusing bits and weak areas, as well as corroborate all the great stuff you know is in your manuscript. Once you’ve found trustworthy critique partners you mesh well with (I cover that next in part two of the series), you only have to open yourself up to receiving their feedback, choosing what you want to take and what to discard, making your edits, and deciding how to go from there. In my group, we allow revisions to be resubmitted, and welcome critiquing our partners through every stage of the drafting, writing, and polishing process. Being open to what your CPs say is THE KEY. Defensiveness is 100% counterproductive.
When to Listen & When Not To
How do you decide what feedback to keep and what to discard? The easiest answer starts with majority rule. If more than one of your critique partners is saying the same thing, you need to pay attention. Take a close look and make sure you understand what the root of the problem is. Ask them how they might fix it, or what would help them better understand what you’re trying to convey.
Aside from the obvious red flag above, listen to all feedback but know that you don’t have to act on all of it. Be objective and welcome all comments, then evaluate if you feel they are valid in terms of your writing style and your overall vision for your piece. The trick here is to learn how to separate your critique partners’ opinions, preferences and triggers from what’s truly constructive criticism. Once you have that skill down, you can easily keep what makes sense and toss the rest without hurt feelings. After a handful of sessions, your critique partners will help you see patterns in your writing, your trouble spots and where you excel.
One reason you need a critique partner is because they double as an accountability partner. If you know your critique partner is expecting you to send them your next chapter by Friday, you’re far more likely to log out of Twitter and get your butt in your writing chair. Week by week, chapter after chapter gets written and before you know it, you’re DONE. You’ll finish with good edits to start the next draft with. The cycle continues and heyyyyy, look, you’re all productive now! If you struggle with the discipline it takes to be a consistent writer, having an accoutabili-buddy is a good way to build consistent writing habits.
My critique group has become far more than people who give me constructive criticism. They are my comrades and friends, and as such, we share our experiences on all aspects the writing life. Since we are at different stages in our careers, we have unique perspectives to share and learn from. The first fifteen minutes of our meetings is reserved for sharing, venting, asking for advice, or anything writing related that’s on our minds. One of our members, Diane Byington, is in the process of publishing her second novel, and has taught the rest of us so much about traditional publishing, editing, and marketing. She’s generous to share it with our tribe.
The right critique partners become priceless advisors and cherished friends, and who can’t use more of both? Now, are you excited to find your own critique partners and start a new group? GREAT, I knew you would be! Next in this four-part series, you’ll learn how to find critique partners and make sure they are a good fit for you. Hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss it, and share your thoughts or questions in the comments. Thanks for stopping by, and happy writing!