Last week we talked about Beta Readers and how valuable they are for reviewing our first draft. Today we will talk about the next step: Critiquing Partners. Having a Critiquing Partner is a give and take proposition. We need them to read our work and provide some in-depth feedback about the entire writing process. But, similar to the Beta Reader, when that person approaches us for help, we need to be available to them as well.
So, in doing some research about this partnership, I've learned several things.
We should establish this relationship as an ongoing one - not just one time. Developing this relationship will encourage honest feedback in both directions. According to Kristen Kieffer of well-storied.com: First, we should identify our needs and desires. Before we even begin looking for a critique partner, take the time to define what we want from the relationship. What kind of support are we looking for? How often would we want to receive feedback? Second, our critique partner doesn't need to write the exact same style of story, but if we want to receive truly valuable feedback on our work, we'll need to forge a relationship with someone who has a strong understanding of our genre and age market. And third, critique partners find themselves in similar positions in their writing lives. When it comes to a true critique partner relationship, you'll likely want to find someone who's on the same playing field.
Our work is important to us, and we need a partner whom we can trust--who is professional, insightful, knowledgeable, discerning, and kind. Similar to our Beta Reader, we need to set a deadline. Also, similar to our BR, we should take the feedback with a grain of salt--don't just jump into rewriting based on the CP's comments. Read the comments, then let them simmer for a few days. We are then ready to look at the issues (both good and not so...) that the CP has raised and consider each individually. Only then will we be ready to roll up our sleeves and tackle any revisions we feel appropriate.
An important note here...if we take issue with any of the CP's comments, talk to him/her. We should air our questions and be sure that we agree before making any changes. If we disagree, let's be certain that we understand how the CP came to make the comment(s).
Remember, our CP is not our editor, even if that is their other job. Our CP is the step before we get to the professional editor. The CP's comments will be invaluable to us as we prepare for that next step. It's important to establish that as part of the CP relationship. We don't want them to edit. We want them to read it through and note what they have problems or questions about.
Kindness - although that might not be the right word. Perhaps better stated: Kindly truth. (Nah! Still, don't like that, but the focus in that phrase should be on both words). This is another two-way street. No author likes to have his/her work criticized, and both giving and receiving criticism is difficult on different levels. Nobody knows our story better than we do, so for someone to make even the slightest fault-finding is hard to take. The key for the CP is to provide constructive criticism:
EXAMPLE: "I liked your description of the bay in Chapter 2, but you might add some additional senses to give that description dimension. How did the air smell? You talked about a storm on the horizon...how did the air feel?" That is not an unkind critique, but a positive one. One that perhaps in our writing we sense the location but just did not add enough to bring it to life. That is a criticism we can live with.
Now the question is: How do we find a Critique Partner? According to Lisa Poisso of lisapoisso.com: "There’s nothing like face-to-face discussion to shake loose new ways of looking at your writing. Look for partners or groups at nearby bookstores, colleges, and universities, and try MeetUp.com to help you find like-minded locals."
Many professional writers organizations such as the Romance Writers of America, the Mystery Writers of America, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have members who provide CP assistance. Local or regional writers' organizations can also provide direction; local arts councils often have book reading groups that might be helpful. A caution: we are looking for experienced people who can spot the good, the bad, and the ugly, and give us creative feedback. We are not looking for an individual who will only say wonderful things without being constructive.
Good luck with finding your Critiquing Partner. This is a relationship that you will want to establish long-term, and it will be rewarding.
Next week: Part III - the Professional Editor