Monday, December 22, 2014

The Great Safari - Hunting for a Critique Partner

Finding a critique partner can be one of the most important things you do as a writer. Everyone, even multi-million dollar best-selling authors, needs someone else to take a look at their work. The truth is, we’re too close to our own writing to catch many of the mistakes that proliferate across pages. A good critique partner is worth their weight in gold. But finding one can also be a big challenge.

Just as there are all kinds of books and authors, there are all kinds of Critique Partners (CPs). Some offer inline, sentence level help, correcting grammar, spelling and punctuation issues. Some focus on large picture issues like pace, plot, character arc and consistency. Some offer a bit of everything. Some CPs may spend days, weeks or even months helping you. Some may read only a single chapter. The important thing is to find a critique partner that works best for you.

Think about the sort of help you think your novel needs and start from there. If you’re a grammar genius, chances are someone who just helps with grammar isn’t going to be a good match for you. It’s also important to find someone who reads in the area that you’re writing. That’s not a hard and fast rule, but it sure helps. It helps even more if you find a critique partner who enjoys your writing style (remember, reading is very subjective and just because someone doesn’t like your novel, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, just that that reader wasn’t a good match for your book).

Here’s what I look for in a critique partner (and I am ridiculously picky):
  • someone who’s writing I admire
    • The word partner is in Critique Partner for a reason. It’s a two-way street. This person will be helping you with your novel, but 9 times out of 10 you’ll be helping them with their novel as well. It’s better for everyone if you both actually enjoy each other’s writing.
  • Someone who offers helpful advice
    • I’m blessed with several wonderful critique partners and each of them brings something different to the process. One is a genius at grammar, spelling and punctuation. One is a an expert at spotting poor sentence structure and suggesting alternatives. Another calls bullshit on consistency issues or when I dip into blue prose. All of them help improve my writing, are critical when needed, but also encouraging as well. They’re as likely to offer a high five as a head shake. I need my criticism tempered with a big of sugar.
  • Someone who has time to critique
    • We all get busy. Sometimes people just don’t have time to critique a novel, a chapter or even a scene. I choose my current critique partners based on who’s available and that changes day to day. That’s one reason it’s a good idea to have several critique partners. Never expect anyone to be available the second you need them.
Alright, so you know you need a CP, now where do you find this fabulous person? Again, there’s no one right way, but here are a few suggestions to get you started.

  • Think local
    • Join an industry group.
      • Whatever you write, YA, Sci Fi, Romance, there is an industry organization for you. I write YA so I’m a member of SCBWI. Through that group you can find local critique groups that meet frequently. By attending an in-person critique group you’ll get a range of reactions to your work and you might find a partner you really click with and want to work with more.
    • Check with your local library or indie bookstore
    • Your local library or indie bookstore may be able to point you to a group that meets locally.
  • Go Online
    • There are lots of online writing communities, including ones run by industry groups like SCBWI, where you can find critique partners. Not all sites are created equal so approach with caution and know what you’re getting into.
    • I am a member of and I really love that site. You have to join but basic membership is free and there’s a huge community of writers in every conceivable genre. What I love about Scrib is you can read critiques members have written of other people’s work and find a critiquer you think would work well with what you’ve written. There are also a ton of small online critique groups through Scrib. Heck, I run one myself (though it’s closed membership and we’re not taking new members right now).
  • Enter a contest
    • Contests like PitchWars, Miss Snark’s Bakers Dozen or myriads of others can help you meet other writers who are also entering. You can connect with those entrants over social media and, if samples of their writing are posted, you can identify other writers whose work you admire and that you’d like to work with. I think contests are a great way to make new writing friends and find critique partners.
  • Attend a Writing Conference
    • Writing conferences can be expensive. Though some of the regional ones run by SCBWI and others are affordable. However, these conferences are invaluable because they let you meet with and learn from industry professionals. They also let you meet a wide range of writers who are at the same point in their careers as you. You just might find the perfect critique partner sitting next to you at a panel or in a workshop. 
      • You can find a huge list of writing conferences on Wikipedia.
    • There’s an online writing conference each year called WriteOnCon. This fabulous conference is completely free and attracts a lot of writers. People post their queries and first pages and help each other out with critiques and suggestions. It’s an amazing community and an amazing opportunity to meet other writers and perhaps find a critique partner.
I am sure there are a million other ways to find critique partners that I haven’t listed. Do a google search, visit writing blogs, talk with other writers over social media. The perfect critique partners are out there waiting for you, so do something today to go find them.

And if you already have a great critique partner, go send them a virtual hug and tell them how much you appreciate them. CPs are invaluable!

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