If you’re writing for publication and have yet to share your work in progress with someone who can provide constructive feedback, you’re doing it wrong. Chances are, you feel at a loss for how to find a critique partner. Maybe you’re the type of writer who feels your work is good enough without the time and hassle required to exchange drafts. Think again. As writers, we are generally too close to our material to notice its flaws. Even though writing is often a solitary endeavor, it is the reader who is the final judge.
A defensive, yet natural, tendency exists for the writer to blame the reader for not “getting it.” If multiple readers notice similar critical issues with your work, then it’s time to take the necessary steps to bring a new level of polish to your work. I previously posted a critique sample of how I provide feedback to a client. Before even dreaming about hiring a professional, a writer should seek the advice of one or more critique partners.
How to Find a Critique Partner
Critique partners agree to exchange drafts in order to provide each other with constructive criticism. It might be someone you’ve met in person or someone you met online. Always remember that the more you critique the works of others, the better you will become at judging the quality of your own work. A relationship with a critique partner offers the stability of frequent and regular feedback.
#1: Utilize Critique Partner Websites: Numerous sites exist such as Ladies Who Critique, How About We CP, CP Seek, Critique Circle, or Absolute Write Water Cooler. I’ve only dabbled in exploring such sites, but it’s great to know so many options exist.
#2: Join a Writer’s Association: Take advantage of the many resources offered by a local writer’s organization. It will be well worth the yearly fees. At least year’s PNWA conference, a bulletin board was set up so writers could advertise for CPs. The Seattle-based groups don’t currently work for me, but networking is always a good thing.
#3: Advertise on Social Media: It never hurts to ask. Put word out on your various social channels. Since I made the decision to devote my efforts to writing and editing full-time, this is how I found one of my first critique partners. I was amazed that a good number of people responded, but I had to pick just one.
#4: Ask a Fellow Blogger/Writer: The partner I’m currently exchanging drafts with was someone I had known for many months as a fellow blogger before we even broached the possibility of exchanging drafts. I also found another great CP when a popular writer opened up her blog comments to aide everyone in their search.
#5: Get Thee to a Workshop: Participating in a writer’s workshop brings many rewards, though it’s not uncommon to feel frustrated with the typical format which allows work to be critiqued sporadically. A college-level writing workshop is also a great place to meet potential CPs. If all else fails, start your own writer’s group whether online or locally.
It’s ridiculously easy to avail one’s self to all the resources available. All if takes is a few simple searches on Google or Bing. Like anything, the learning curve can be steep at first as new habits are formed. Your writing will thank you for it.
Setting Ground Rules with a Critique Partner
How to find a critique partner is usually much easier than finding one that meets your goals as a writer and who also meshes with your personality. The following should be considered:
#1: Partner Suitability: Make it known what level of experience you desire as well as what genres you are comfortable critiquing. Writers of genre fiction vs. literary fiction may or may not be the best match. It’s also good to note the level of sex, language, and violence the potential CP tends to incorporate.
#2: How Often and How Much: Weekly exchanges can be great but a bit intense. Exchanging every two weeks is a better bet. A bare minimum could be one exchange a month. It’s better to go with a word count limit as opposed to number of chapters. I’m okay with anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 words per exchange, but your limit could differ.
#3: Feedback Delivery: The optimal way to provide comments is to use Word’s commenting feature. It’s much easier to read than handwritten comments, plus it doesn’t change the document’s word count like inserting comments within the text can. Typed notes that refer to page and paragraph numbers prove cumbersome.
#4: Time Commitment: In general, plan to spend one to two hours making comments with each exchange. The number of comments made in the margin will vary greatly. While I would love to fill each page with comments down the margin like I do with client’s, it’s just not possible for the time I can give to the task.
#5: Type of Comments: Focus on asking questions that center on story elements rather than spending time tinkering with your partner’s sentence structure. For the most part, I fix small typos without a second thought, but unless a sentence is really awkward, I leave it alone. Critiquing and copy editing are two different things.
Always reserve the right to discontinue a partnership. You’ll know if it’s not working, so start each new partnership as a trial run. Reasons to break it off with a partner are many. For example, constant emails seeking feedback at the drop of a hat can cause a relationship to sour. Also, if the amount of feedback received is continually less than what you provide your partner, it’s time to move on.
What resources have you used to find a critique partner? What works and doesn’t work for you when seeking feedback on your writing?
Image Credit: Woman Reading a Book by Petr Kratochvil
Permission must be granted by JeriWB to use the “Stupid Hurts” image in this post.
Article by Jeri Walker-Bickett aka JeriWB