On Writing a Novel: Critique Partners*

critique

(*This post will be about Critique Partners. I know, I said it was going to cover more topics. Critique Partners are too important. They need a whole post.)

Revision is now complete. You have read through one more time for good measure. You are about to write your query—

Hold on. You are not ready just yet. Reel that trigger finger in and holster it.

Everyone has a first reader, many writers are already blessed to have Critique Partners — don’t forget to show them love, good Critique Partners are manuscript currency— and some are at the point where finding a Critique Partner is the next logical step in their writing journey.

Critique Partners: What are they? Where do I get one?

Critique Partners — or as they will be referred to henceforth, CPs— are other writers that you exchange manuscripts with, giving and receiving feedback.

It wasn’t until I was on the fifth draft of Redhunt (FYI: There is now a 6th. Revision isn’t over until the book is printed.) that I began seeking readership outside my husband and a few close friends.

CP Tip #1: Find an online community of writers and connect with them. Check out writer’s groups in the area. Take a workshop. Reaching out to other writers is the best way to find one you might connect with.

I took a workshop through Mediabistro taught by the illustrious Nova Ren Suma. Beyond Nova’s invaluable critique and feedback on pages from Redhunt, there were eleven other students giving feedback. I loved all the awesome people I met through this workshop, but a few of us started exchanging work and haven’t stopped since. In many ways, that workshop was the best $600 I have ever spent.

Pro Tip: You may not have sold a book, but technically you are a business operating at a loss as you pursue publication. Classes for writing are totally deductible.

CP Tip #2: If you can’t find someone who writes in your genre — sub-genre if you write YA — at least find someone who likes to read what you write.

I have three CPs and none of them write YA high fantasy. Susan writes Adult magical realism and YA urban fantasy. Sam writes YA paranormal and contemporary, and Jess writes YA paranormal and contemporary. The thing we have in common is our love of YA and our enjoyment of each others genres.

CP Tip #3: There are all kinds of CP relationships. Learn what works for you and them, and how to get the most out of critiquing each others work.

Besides my three CPs, I frequently read and exchange notes with screenwriter and Middle Grade writer Alex, as well as Courtney, who writes upper YA/NA. I am buds with YA writer, Sara Biren, who has a critiquing and editing business (and shares my love of the Ruby Red Trilogy).

Not to mention, I occasionally give feedback on queries, synopsis and read pages from some local writer pals and others I have met at various locations. And whenever possible, Lindsay Cummings and I hang out and write, talk through book problems, and read pages.

All these CP relationships are different, and come with different levels of commitment. Make sure you are clear about what you expect before you embark on a new writing friendship.

CP Tip #4: When you find a CP (or many), be generous with feedback, be kind with criticism, and don’t rewrite the book for them.

As readers, it is very easy to jump on a CPs manuscript or critique it into a book the writer just is not writing. There are many ways to tell a story, but when you are the writer, you are telling the story as only you can. As a CP, you must embrace the writer’s vision while helping them to strengthen the prose, see plot holes and other drafting problems, and present options for revision. The most valuable critique involves asking questions that will prompt the writer to find a solution.

CP Tip #5: Along those same lines, when you receive critique DO NOT argue with your Critique Partner.

Not every piece of feedback is going to resonate with you. Reading is “incredibly subjective” as you will be reminded countless times when you begin querying. And you know what? It’s true. The purpose of critique is to illuminate your manuscript in a way you as the writer couldn’t. Every note has merit because your CP is a reader — a much more forgiving reader than you will find in an agent you cold query or a teenager at Barnes and Noble —and whether or not you ultimately decide to revise is up to you.

Pro Tip: Some things are worth fighting for. Others are worth letting go. Those things are the barnacles on the belly of your manuscript.

CP Tip #6: Have fun with critique. I am so close to one of my CPs (though I love them all equally) that when she goes on vacation for a week and I don’t hear from her as much, I find a Susan shaped hole in my heart.

Here are some famous CPs (and a pic of Susan and me thrown in!):

Next up: Polishing and Preparing to Query

 

 

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9 thoughts on “On Writing a Novel: Critique Partners*

  1. Love this. I’ll probably steal it and re-post on my blog too ’cause you know, we’re codependent like that. And sorry about the Susan-shaped hole. I’ll try to do better on the next vacation. 🙂

    1. Rebekah

      It’s a vacation, taking a break from your normal life is kind of a given. Even if my heart looks funny right now. 😉

    1. Rebekah

      YES! I need to get you some comments. I’ve been reading! But absolutely, we have mediabistro and Nova to thank for sure.

  2. I enjoy beta reading and I really like my CP’s. I’ve gotten on the whole really great advice from them…Even some advice along the lines of, not “I’m going to rewrite your book” but “you need to rewrite this book here and here” because it was a first novel and, as I imagine is pretty common, nothing happened for the first 50 pages or so.

    1. Rebekah

      I also enjoy beta reading too. I love watching my CPs manuscripts straighten out and improve, and even though it’s all the other writer, being able to give feedback that helps them have lightbulb moments. And yes, a good CP knows how to encourage rewriting without telling how to do it.

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