In our experience, the best writers are not the people who have the best innate style, or even those who work with the best editors. No. The best writers are the people who have a solid writer’s group and an excellent critique partner.
In case you are unfamiliar, a writer’s group is a small community of authors who, much like a book club, get together (either in person or over the internet) and discuss the written word. However, instead of bestsellers, the books they talk about are written by the people in that group, and they are incomplete. A writer’s group is a space to workshop your book with the help of authors going through the same process.
A lot of the time, you will develop a closer editorial relationship with one or even a few other writers in your group. When you pair up to get deep into the nitty gritty of your books, you are critique partners (CPs).
In our opinion, getting feedback from other authors is the single best thing you can do for your writing. There are several reasons for this:
- It gives you moral and emotional support. Writer’s block? If you have it, you can guarantee someone has had it before, and can help you through it. Dejected? Your CPs will bring you out of the dumps.
- Working on someone else’s book will give you ideas for your own book. Focusing on a book not your own will give your subconscious time to work through a problem. Or, the content of your CP’s book will give you a unique idea you can adapt for your own book.
- You will develop a critical editorial eye. Part of being a good CP is to diagnose problems with other books, and look for a solution. If you are adept at doing this with someone else’s book, you can do it to your own book.
- It will make you better at revisions. Killing your darlings is a painful but necessary process for improving your project. It takes a lot of discipline, but if you help other authors kill their darlings, it’ll be easier for you to see when you need to, too.
However, if you’re in a writing group, or are someone’s CP, you need to be aware that your partners put as much time and heart into their writing as you do to yours. Someone saying a project is bad can hurt feelings and cause a lot of conflict, but these feelings are not productive, and won’t help either of you get better at your craft.
So how do you deliver the criticism necessary for being a good CP without causing problems?
- Make sure your critique is constructive. It’s not enough to point out problem areas. Instead, make sure you’re brainstorming and putting your creative juices into the mix to help your CP solve their problem.
- Don’t forget to add in positive comments. In editorial, we often call this the “compliment sandwich.” Beginning and ending your critique with things you liked, or even loved, will intimidate your CP a lot less than a big list of negatives. Remember: everyone deserves a compliment here and there.
- Lighten the tone. This is especially true if you’re commenting on the document itself. If you laughed at a joke in a manuscript, or found something humorous, say so. This communicates to your CP that you’re enjoying the process and like their book, which will make them take your criticism more seriously.
- Thank them. Even if you don’t agree with your CP’s critique, they put a lot of thought and effort into your manuscript. Be thankful. If you don’t do what they suggest, appreciate that they made you think more deliberately about an aspect of your work.
And the most important thing:
- Always explain yourself. Your CP is inviting you into their creative process, and is letting you have influence on their work. That requires a LOT of trust. If you make a big change and you don’t explain why, that trust might be diminished. Your CP might think that you’re trying to censor them, or even that you’re trying to put your own mark on their work. By explaining yourself, you’re developing your editorial eye and your CP’s, and you’ll build trust, rather than destroying it.
Writers, what other tips do you have for being a good critique partner?