Maybe you all already have a stable full of writing friends and critique partners who read your work at lightening speed and give the most amazing life-changing feedback and offer book recommendations that are in perfect line with your tastes.
It’s taken me years.
It hasn’t been for lack of trying. Since 2013, I’ve done it all, multiple times in multiple ways, for multiple WIPs. I’ve:
- Attended MeetUp groups;
- Attended SCWBI regional conferences;
- Emailed people on the boards on Absolute Write;
- Emailed people who commented on Maggie Stievfater’s critique partner hookup blog post;
- Emailed folks who commented on Susan Dennard’s CP hookup blog post;
- Reached out to already existing groups listed on the local SCBWI writing group boards;
- Co-hosted a writing social through SCBWI;
- Shouted from the rooftops on Twitter, putting out an open call
In the past three years I’ve swapped partial or full manuscripts with more than 18 people, poured hours of my own limited writing time into reading other people’s work in the hopes I might make a connection, find a writer with a like mind, with a WIP that suits my taste so I want to read every word in slow-motion (this might be a poor way to explain what it feels like to give detailed feedback, but let’s just go with it), who opens my eyes to problems I was blind to in my own manuscript.
And I’m happy to report that finally–FINALLY–I think I’ve found a small handful of people who are my people. People I trust, who’s opinions I respect, who’s writing talent I totally admire, who wrote books that are just my cup of tea, who I want to be friends with. To be clear, this isn’t a knock on those other folks who I haven’t continued to swap pages with. None of the writers were untalented or anything like that, nor was I alone in ending these critique partner relationships; sometimes someone didn’t work for me, sometimes I didn’t work for them. Not everyone in the world is your people, which is why it’s important for writers to test each other out, try each other on for size before going all-in and investing the time to read each other’s full manuscripts.
As frustrating as it may sound, from what I’ve gathered from other writers this isn’t an uncommon experience. Finding a critique partner takes time and patience.
If you’re currently hunting for a critique partner, a few general guidelines I’d offer from my own experience:
- Only swap a sample to begin with, a few pages, a few chapters. Remember, you two are (probably) total strangers! If you don’t end up liking their writing enough, or their feedback doesn’t resonate with you, no hard feelings if you decide not to go all-in. Less wasted time and disappointment on both ends.
- Agree on firm deadlines. There’s nothing worse than swapping chapters and then not hearing back for three months from the other person. This puts your revision on hold for months, unnecessarily! Or maybe you move ahead without their feedback and by the time it arrives, it’s worthless.
- Communicate. If you’re going to miss the deadline, tell the other person. If you’re not enjoying their chapters and feel like you have nothing valuable to offer, tell them (nicely!). If you’re decided to quit writing and have abandoned your manuscript, shoot them an email! I lied earlier–there is something worse than not hearing back for months and that’s not hearing back at all. It’s a horrible feeling when you send something you created to someone else in the world and you take the time to read their work and then…they disappear into the void like a phantom.
- Don’t settle. I promise you, the right writing friend/critique partner is out there! Don’t agree to read someone else’s manuscript if you dread working through it and are just doing it for their feedback. That’s not fair to either of you. You both could have spent all that time working on your own books or looking for your ideal critique partner instead!
- Be kind. The purpose of a critique partner is to build someone up, to help, to offer a new perspective on their writing. Don’t tear someone or their craft down. All feedback should be constructive. No matter what.
- Be respectful. A critique partner does not work for you. It’s an equal partnership and you should maintain that balance.
While a critique partner is an incredibly valuable thing and I truly believe it can help you get your writing to the next level (certainly has for me!) just having a critique partner won’t fit the bill. Make sure you do your due diligence and find a critique partner who you’re compatible with for the long-haul, all 50,000-120,000 words of it.