Writing Advice #9

When I first committed myself to my writing, I knew less than I knew now. An example of this ignorance is the need for a critique partner. Each writer has his or her own definition of what a critic partner is. For this post, I will concentrate on what I believe a critique partner can be.

The simple way of looking at it is that a critique partner is someone who can help you with your writing. He or she reads your work from another writer’s point of view. This means that not only do you get help in terms of grammar and finding those pesky typos, you also get help when plotting. Critique partners can help you make sure that your story makes sense. Sometimes, we get so close to our work that we fail to see the other possibilities. There are many suggestions a critique partner can give, but what you have to remember is a critique partner can only go so far. You are still the writer. It’s still your story. And in the end, it’s still your call if you want to take the advice or not.

The best critique partners don’t try to change your writing style to suit their tastes. They understand what you’re trying to do and guide you toward your goal. I call this the Wait and See method. The critique partner doesn’t jump the gun in terms of where the story is going. Any critique partner that meddles too much in the way you write your story might not be the best one for you. As writers, we must have our own style. It grows and evolves as we continue to learn. But no one can change our style for us. So, you need to be weary of critique partners that overstep their bounds. Most importantly, be honest with your critique partner. If you feel that they’ve gone too far, say so. There’s nothing wrong with that. Finding someone who’s in sync with your writing is difficult, but not impossible. You just have to be patient. It’s like making friends. Some work out, while others don’t. But don’t stick with someone who just compliments you all the time. We all liked to be praised for what we’re doing, but too much isn’t good for your growth as a writer as well. You need to find that balance of tough love when it comes to critique partners. Not only will he or she look out for what’s best for your work, they will look out for what’s best for you, too.

My first critique partner came from an ad I answered posted on Literary Rambles. I’ll discuss more about this awesome site in another post. But going back to my original thought, my first critique partner put up an ad. As a fluke, not knowing what a critique partner is yet, I answered it. As writers, we tend to be secretive about our work. We keep things close to the chest, so to actually have a stranger look at your work can be nerve wracking, to say the least. When I got over the initial sense of distrust, I began corresponding with my new critique partner. She chose me among others who offered since we both had the same writing aesthetic. I’d since parted ways with her, but we remain friends. She taught me how to separate myself as a writer and as an editor. I also learned from her how to be conscious of the words I used and how to show what is happening instead of just telling the story.

As months passed, I’ve gone through quite a few critique partners. All of them helped me in their own way. Having someone critique your work is always a learning experience. At least, that’s how I want to think about it because I would end up sitting in a corner crying if I let every little criticism affect me as a writer. I think I’ll have to write about the differences between constructive criticism and destructive criticism sometime.

At the moment, I have three critique partners, all of whom I trust implicitly with my freshest stuff. They all bring out the writer in me, and challenge me to always better myself. I think that’s the most important thing about having a critique partner. They see the holes in your work that you previously might not have noticed. They encourage you to keep going. And since they are writers too, they are the best people to commiserate with when writing is getting a little too hard for comfort. I can honestly say that I am friends with all my critique partners. I think that’s what you need to do. Create a rapport with them.

When you have a critique partner, you’ll end up doing some critiquing, too. It’s a two way street, dear reader. The exchange of chapters is mutual. I believe that being a critique partner also helps bring out the editor in you because you get to read the work of others and share what you know about writing with them. It’s essentially information swapping. There’s no point in being greedy. If Barney the purple dinosaur taught us anything, it’s to share.

The best place to find critique partners are writing communities and forums. I’ve mentioned Literary Rambles as one, but another is Agent Query Connect. There are many writers there willing to help out. And the best thing about Agent Query is that you can find writers working in the same genre as you. In that way, the critiquing stays within your realm of comfort. If you have other places that you could recommend when it comes to finding critique partners, don’t hesitate to mention it in the comments section (maybe even add the link), dear readers.

I don’t know if I’d ever gotten an agent if I didn’t have critique partners. I don’t even think I would be the kind of writer I am today if my critique partners didn’t teach me a thing or two. So, I would like to extend a simple show of gratitude to those who have patiently taken the time to read and comment on my work. You help me keep sane in this insane endeavor. You show me possibilities I wouldn’t have considered. You give uplifting and sage advice. And you let me read the wonderful things you write.

So, to all the critique partners out there, keep on critiquing. Know when to kick-butt. Know when to give a virtual hug. Always add good comments and encouragements. Always mention when you find something funny, effective, or just plain awesome. And don’t be afraid to make suggestions. That’s what we’re here for, right? If we can’t help save each other from complicated plot knots, grammatical errors, and the war on typos, then why call ourselves critique partners?

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