We all know the image: the solitary writer, toiling away on their novel, alone in their study or home office. But writing isn’t a solitary endeavor, and if you’re looking to improve your craft, working with a critique partner is a great way to do so.
What is a critique partner?
A critique partner (CP) is another writer with whom you exchange your manuscript, chapters, scenes, etc. You critique their work, and in return, they critique yours.
Sometimes you send each other first drafts, and other times you’re working on more revised drafts.
Sharing your writing and having a CP is one of the most effective ways to become a better writer. Plus, as I’ve mentioned re: working with alpha readers, having that accountability and excitement from someone else can help keep you motivated through the process!
How do you find a critique partner?
Keep in mind that finding the right critique partner for you is going to take some trial and error. You need someone who knows your genre, provides feedback you find helpful, and whose schedule roughly lines up with yours. Ask your potential CP questions like it’s an interview or first date.
Popular places you might connect with a CP include:
- Writing groups
- Social media
- Your NaNoWriMo regional group / NaNo forums
As you begin looking for a critique partner, you’ll want to know what you’re looking for. Think about the genre you write, who’s in your ideal audience, and what type of feedback you want.
How to do a trial with your potential critique partner
Because not every CP is going to be the right person for you, consider doing a trial. Don’t just send them your manuscript and hope for the best.
- Ask them questions. Do they read and/or write in your genre(s)? What kind of critique are they looking for (e.g. big picture vs. style)?
- Exchange just a few chapters. This gives you both a feel for the other person’s writing style and story.
- Set a mutual deadline. This gives you both a timetable to turnaround the critique. Be realistic and find something that works for both parties.
If things don’t work out, that’s okay! Part ways on a good note and keep searching.
How should you format CP feedback?
You and your CP can agree on how you want to provide each other feedback, but critiques usually include two different types of feedback:
- Some ‘big picture’ notes, like in an email, and
- Comments in the story
The types of comments you leave, how long that email will be, etc. will vary.
One thing I always tell my editing clients is that feedback will ebb and flow. Some chapters will have less constructive criticism simply because they were stronger chapters. The same is likely going to be true for you and your CP’s work!
Giving your critique partner feedback
Once you find a CP to work with, remember that this person is also a writer with hopes, dreams, and feelings. You can be an honest CP without being ruthless.
One of my core values as an editor is providing both positive and constructive feedback. You can do the same as a CP! If you like a specific paragraph, scene, etc., leave a comment complimenting the author. If something was funny, tell them!
When you’re giving more critical feedback, be specific. Just commenting, “This doesn’t make sense,” doesn’t help your CP at all. Provide context and examples when you can.
Receiving critique partner feedback
Just like every writer (and editor) has a different style, CPs are going to have different feedback styles. It may take you a few rounds of comments to understand this writer’s virtual voice. If it helps, you can always ask to do a phone or Zoom call if you can’t meet up in person.
When you do get critical feedback (as everyone does during critiques), take a moment to notice how you feel. Is your heart pounding? Is your face warm? If you start to feel overwhelmed, disappointed, or angry, take a step back, then reevaluate.
The whole point of working with a critique partner is to get this kind of feedback. A CP who only praises your work isn’t actually critiquing anything. If you’re feeling attacked by the critique, ask yourself these questions:
- Are the comments fair? ‘Fair’ is different to everyone, but I would consider a fair comment one that considers the author’s intent, asks a question, and doesn’t harshly criticize.
- Are the comments helpful? Have they pointed out some kind of weakness or confusing spot in your manuscript?
- Do the comments make you think? Even if you don’t like the solution proposed by your CP, a comment/criticism can still help you brainstorm a different solution or direction.
- Are the comments actually mean or rude? If a CP you try working with is legitimately being rude or providing unhelpful feedback, you don’t have to keep working with them. You can always ‘break up’ and move on.
And remember, the more you receive criticisms and critiques, the more comfortable you’ll become with processing the feedback. It’s a learning process for everyone.
FAQ: Is a CP going to steal your idea?
This is a question/concern I see often in the online writing community. People want to work with a CP or beta reader, but they’re worried someone is going to steal their idea. I’ve never heard of it happening, but I don’t know every writer’s experience so I can’t say for sure.
But at the end of the day, most other writers don’t want to steal your idea. They want to provide feedback and receive help in return. They want to build a community of colleagues and friends. Stealing someone else’s well-documented work is not going to make anyone friends.
Still, this is one more reason why ‘interviewing’ your potential CP and trialing feedback with them is so important. You can start to get a feel for who they are as a person. Check out their social media and get to know them before handing over your story.
At the end of the day, the vast majority of writers are NOT trying to steal your ideas. They have plenty of their own!
Is critique partner feedback a replacement for professional edits?
Your CP’s feedback is going to be essential to your revisions process and should help you grow as a writer. The perspective of another writer can be infinitely helpful.
However… it’s still not a replacement for professional editing. Professional editors look at manuscripts differently than writers; we’re trained to work with a different approach and discerning eye.
Work with a CP before you start looking for an editor. Putting the work in to self-edits can ultimately cut down on your editing costs–fewer rounds of pro edits needed!–and make you a stronger author in the long run.
TL;DR: Working with a CP
- Do trial critiques with potential new CPs so you can evaluate each other’s writing style, feedback, etc.
- Be specific about the type of CP you want to work with–genre, subgenre, type of feedback you need, etc.
- Take breaks when processing feedback; even kind constructive criticism can be hard to work through at first.
- Put in the work to incorporate CP feedback and self-edit. This will save you on editing costs later.
- Working with a CP is not a replacement for working with an editor. Both are important!
Happy writing and good luck!
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