Working With Critique Partners

Most of the time, I try to center my posts around things that I’ve learned in classes or through observation or experience, or around things that are generally accepted as correct or preferred within the writing community. If I have facts or evidence, I try to link to that as well. Today’s post covers a pretty subjective process, and people’s experiences and preferences can vary a lot, so please understand that my thoughts on this subject may be different from others’. Thanks.

Last week, we did sort of a rundown on the basic difference between critique partners, beta readers, and editors.  Today, I’m going to talk about how I would ideally go about utilizing a critique partner’s assistance.

Disclaimer: I don’t have a critique partner, and I haven’t worked with one in a long time, so a lot of this is hypothetical.

Like Stephen King advised in his memoir, On Writing, I prefer to write with the door closed. I don’t stick to outlines and my story changes direction pretty frequently in the rough stages, so there’s not a lot of point in me sharing something today when it might be totally different tomorrow. I need to work through all of this on my own if I want to stay on track. That’s also why I haven’t been writing a whole lot about my novel here–everything is vague right now and it’s going to stay that way for a while. But let’s talk about what I might do if I had a critique partner.

First off, I wouldn’t open my door all the way while I’m writing my rough draft. I don’t think it’s efficient to send someone a copy of what I’ve written today and expect them to go over it and give me a word for word analysis. What would I even do with it? I’m not going back to what I wrote today until I reach the end of my draft. There’s no reason to waste my partner’s time expecting feedback every day if I’m just going to sit on it for weeks or months. However, I would bounce ideas off of them, and maybe send part of a scene or a few paragraphs and ask specific questions about those selections. (Is this enough conflict? Does it seem realistic? This sentence feels rough to me; can you think of a way to make it sound better?) I’d go to them if I got stuck and ask for ideas about how I might get the words flowing again.

I wouldn’t fully open my door until I finished a second draft of my novel–the first draft is rough, and I can do quite a bit of cleanup on that without needing another person’s input. At this point, I’d ask my partner to read my whole manuscript and expect some pretty thorough feedback. I’d also communicate with them while I write my third draft. Critique partners are writers, so a good one should be able to point out huge problems–like when your characters aren’t acting right, or when parts of your plot just don’t make sense–and help you work your way to solutions. I would also do all of this for them because that’s what it means to be in a partnership.

Some people are going to need or want more out of a critique partnership than I would. Just because I don’t want anyone seeing the early stages of my work doesn’t mean you have to cloister yourself while you write. If you’re someone who outlines or plots out your stories before you get started, you might even show your outlines to your partner and see if they can spot problems early on. Everybody writes differently, so even though I can tell you how I would do things, that doesn’t mean my way is the best way or the only way. You’re going to have to figure out what you need for yourself, and that comes down to experience. The more you put into this, the more you’re going to get out of it.

Lots of authors utilize critique partners to help push their writing to the next level. Just doing a critique of someone else’s work can help you get better at editing your own. There’s a lot to gain from the process, so if you’re feeling stuck or even just lonely when you’re writing, you might give it a shot. It might take some trial and error before you find a partner who really gets you, but that’s also part of the process and nothing to be afraid of. Think of it like buying new shoes–sometimes you have to try a few pairs before you find one that’s a perfect fit.

That’s about all I have to say on this subject, but I might try to write a more objective post another time if someone asks for it. Next week, I’m going to talk about beta readers, so be sure and check back for that. I’ll also have an exercise for you on Friday. If you have any questions, or if you want to share your own experience, please leave a comment below!

Image credit: Daria Rom, Unsplash.

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