There are so many awesome blog posts out there about critiquing, and I encourage you to read all of these posts–you won’t be disappointed. Earlier in the week, Jamie posted about Being Emotionally Prepared for Critiques. I also have a wonderful friend, and fellow YA author, Sarah Ockler, who has written a few posts on critique groups: Evaluating Critique Groups: Six Crucial Questions, and Are you an Ideal Critique Partner?. Brian, from Descent into Slushland, wrote a post How do you Find Critique Partners, and I told him he inspired me to write a post about critiquing, so here goes.
Critiquing — it can be terrifying and exhilarating all at once. I love my partners like they are my own family. I’ve gotten to know them and know about their life, and the friendships I’ve made are everlasting. But no matter how much you love you partner(s) or critique group, it can still be stressful.
When critiquing, there are some things that are helpful, while others simply…aren’t. Writers are full of passion. Yes, you know you are. That passion is crucial to the creative process, but we oftentimes need to keep that passion in check when critiquing for others.
- Keep it constructive. Sometimes we may not necessarily like a sentence, or maybe a character isn’t working…for YOU. Ask yourself, “Why isn’t this working for me?” Is it simply because you would have written it a different way? Is there a problem with character motivation? Does the wording read awkward? The sentence not tight enough? What kind of image does it bring to mind? Is it the image you think the author is trying to convey? Don’t just tell someone you don’t like something and not tell them why. That isn’t constructive. That is YOU giving a personal opinion.
- Try to keep the word I out of the critique. Sentences like, “I hate this. I don’t like this character.” Don’t belong in a critique. A critique is serious business. You have to instill and generate a tremendous amount of trust in someone before you can take them seriously. The moment you stop being constructive, the moment the defenses go up.
- Help diagnose the problem, don’t fix it. It is so easy to want to write someone else’s work for them, because, well, it’s not your work, and we can fix someone else’s work better than we can fix our own. That isn’t your job as a critique partner. If you think the author could say something better (and it isn’t working for you…don’t offer suggestions to something that is working for you), write something like, “Maybe you could try something like this…” Give a suggestion, and then tell them why you’re giving them the suggestion. Sometimes editors and critique partners are good at diagnosing an issue, but we may not have the best solution for fixing it.
- Ask yourself, “Does this really need to be fixed, or is this just not how I would write it?” This is big. Sometimes we want to rewrite words/sentences/paragraphs/pages when they don’t necessarily need to be rewritten. Everyone has a different writing style–if we didn’t, then no one would read because reading would be boring if everything was similar. It can be easy to try and rewrite things because you think you could write it better. Again, not your job as a critique partner. Just because you would write something one way doesn’t mean it needs to be rewritten at all.
- Take all feedback into consideration. Not all feedback will be useful. You’re the writer, it’s your story. Sometimes we read something from our critique partner(s) that we disagree with–and that’s normal. You have to have confidence in your work to know what feedback to use and what not to use. BUT, consider all feedback. Even if you’re not going to use it, think about it. Sometimes a comment can spark a thought that leads to an epiphany with your work. Maybe you never would have had the epiphany if you wouldn’t have read the feedback.
- When two or more. Some people have one critique partner, some have more. Personally (notice I said personally, this isn’t what everyone does, but I’ll tell you why I feel it’s important), I have three (sometimes more–I’m fortunate to have some amazing ladies who read my work) people who read my work for me. Here’s why–when two or more people identify that something isn’t working for them, chances are, you need to go back over that particular thing and rework it. This ties in to taking in all feedback–if one person says something isn’t working for them, but the other two don’t have a problem with it, I still consider it, but I’m not as focused on it as I would be if two or more have a problem with it.
- Keep a schedule. This is crucial to the success of your work and the relationship with your critique partner(s). Hold one another accountable. If you say you’re going to submit so many pages by a certain date, then make sure you do that. Next, make sure you both agree on when you’ll have them back to the other. Make a schedule that works best for everyone, and keep it.
- Goals. It’s important to find someone who has the same goals as you. How can you expect someone you’re working with to take your writing serious if they don’t take their own writing serious? If you find someone who is also actively trying to seek publication, and you are actively seeking publication, you can do wonders for each other. You can motivate, encourage, and help the other prepare.
- Be happy for each other. This is a touchy subject, and I know none of us do this intentionally, but keep that green monster in check. Chances are, you and your critique partner(s) will be at different stages in your writing. One may be further ahead than the other (in terms of being ready to query, not skill level or anything). Encourage them, be happy for them. Querying is a nightmare. There are rejections, second guesses, and lots of emotions to deal with. This is your biggest dream for crying out loud. Be supportive of one another. Offer a shoulder or an ear. Don’t bask in someone else’s misery because you aren’t ready to query yet. Be genuine. It makes a difference.
- If you have an issue with a critique partner(s), talk it out. Don’t let something fester. If someone says something that hurt your feelings, tell them. They probably didn’t do it intentionally. You have to open up to one another in order for the relationship to be effective. It is a relationship. A big one. Just like any other relationship, you have to put some work into maintaining it. You’ll only grow closer when you do this.
There are a million other things one could write about critiquing, finding critique groups, and being an effective critiquer, but I’ll stop here. What are some things you look for in a critique partner?