Evaluating Your Compatibility with a Potential Critique Partner | Becky Levine
Today we welcome Becky Levine, author of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Give and Receive Feedback, Self-Edit, and Make Revisions. Becky is talking about how to evaluate your compatibility with a critique partner; she runs us through some great tips on tackling that difficult task. Thanks to Becky for sharing her wisdom!
The first thing to remember when you start looking for a critique partner is that you, and they, are going to feel nervous at first. It doesn’t matter if you’ve known this person for ten years, or if you just met online a week ago. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing in completely different genres or if you’re both writing picture books.
You’re going to have butterflies in your stomach. Both of you.
That said, there are a few things you can think about, before you start your hunt for the right critique partners, that will reduce that nervousness and take you farther along the path to finding a good fit. These are questions you can ask yourself and, when you start talking with that critique partner, ask them as well.
Do you know what genre you want to write?
If you are 100% positive that you are going to write YA paranormal romance, and that’s all, then—yes—there can be a definite benefit to finding a critique partner also writing about werewolves and goblins (with hearts!). You’ll both be reading the same books, keeping up with the same market, aware of what the same editors and agents are looking for. You’ll be critiquing in a genre you know well, and that shared experience will strengthen your partnership.
If, on the other hand, you’re experimenting with several different genres, or you’re writing a mystery now, but have ideas for some fantasy and some sci-fi as well, then you don’t need to limit yourself on who you critique with. You’re looking for a strong critiquer who can help you develop story and character, strengthen dialogue, and work on narrative voice. As long as you’re both willing to read each other’s writing, no matter what genre, go for it.
How long have you been writing and critiquing?
Writers of all experience and publication success can critique together. A new writer can be a fantastic reader, and a writer with published titles may not have that much practice actually critiquing. But it’s important to think about where you are on the path and where your new critique partner is, as well.
Talk to each other about what you’ve done—how much writing and how much critiquing. If you’re both new to the game, try and get a sense of how committed this other writer is to pushing themselves to make steady progress, how interested they truly are in having you dig deep into their writing and give you feedback. Think about how ready you are to have someone talk about your stories, how much energy you want to put into hearing about what isn’t working and into making that better.
There’s nothing wrong with starting slow, and there’s nothing wrong with pushing fast off the mark. Ideally, though, both you and the critique partner will have some idea of what speed’s going to work best and how, as a group, you want to move forward.
What are your future goals?
Most of us see publication in our future. But that can mean a lot of different things. It can be a distant, if definite goal, for someone just starting out and learning the craft. It can be a date on next year’s calendar, when you want to be finished with revision and either searching for an agent or working on picking the best font for self-publishing your book.
What you want, and when, can impact the pace at which you’re writing and at which you’re ready to critique. Ask your critique partner about their goals, and share your own. Find out if you’re both planning to share a chapter every month, or if one of you wants to be sending 50 pages every two weeks. You don’t have to be in exactly the same spot, but do see if and where your plans overlap. And how that feels.
The most important thing to do when choosing a critique partner is to listen to your gut. If you feel a connection with this writer, if you like the way they talk about writing and critiquing, if you exchange samples (always a good idea) and feel like you can work both with their manuscripts and the feedback they’ve giving you, then go for it. If on the other hand, the comfort level is just not there, if you feel tense and extra nervous, then don’t rush in. Take the time to look around some more and talk to other writers. Ask the questions I’ve talked about above and hear what they have to say.
Then trust your feelings and take that first step forward. Get writing and get critiquing.
Becky Levine is a writer and editor living in California’s Santa Cruz mountains. Becky is the author of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide, published by Writer’s Digest Books. She has been a freelance editor for over a decade and has participated in her own critique groups for fifteen years. Find out more about Becky at her blog & website, www.beckylevine.com.
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