The Critique Partner

I have been a member of the Wichita Area Romance Authors for over eleven years now and I have attended meetings, listened to guest speakers, presented programs and held office positions. The friendships that have developed, the respect and admiration for the members continue to deepen as the years pass.

The purpose of the writing group is to learn the craft, to complete a manuscript, seek an agent, and hope for publication. I have watched as several members have accomplished these goals and wonder, “Why can’t I seem to complete my novel?” “Do I even know what genre or sub genre I want to write?”

One afternoon, while checking my email, a friend from the past contacted me and asked a simple question: “Would you like to form a critique partnership?”
Critique? As in meet one on one, once or twice a month, discuss our writing and constructively criticize it? No way. The thought that someone would read my work and then sit face to face with me and tear it apart was not appealing. I balked at the idea.
I did not respond to the email at first. I pondered the pros and cons. I researched the functions of a critique partner or a group, for that matter. Why should I join this? I already belonged to WARA. What was the need? However, my interest was piqued, my friend was very persuasive and I decided to try it.

What it IS:

A. Honest. Your partner will read your work (and vice versa) and ask open
ended questions to help develop a plot line, a character, conflict and
the resolution (and much more!) Your partner should be helpful.
B. Comfortable. You want to make sure you are at ease with your partner.
You should be able to discuss concerns and leave with a sense of
all questions answered or ideas to ponder.
C. Confidential. Trust is key. Your story is not shared with the world
until you are ready.

It is NOT:

A. Judgmental. Your partner does not try to change your story in any
way. She or he plays the part of listener, coach and cheerleader
all rolled into one.
B. Uncomfortable. If you partner with someone that does not seem to
understand your style or criticizes in a non-constructive way, you
need to find another partner. You should be at ease.
C. The Final Say. You do not need to agree with your partner’s tips or
comments. You can agree to disagree. If your partner becomes
upset, then maybe it’s time to find a new partner.
D. Unreliable. You need to be committed and stick with the schedule as much
as possible. It’s understandable that there will be times that meetings must
be cancelled, but don’t make it a habit. Someone is depending on you.

If you find yourself in a slump, and you have never contemplated the critique partner or a group (a bit of advice – keep it small, three or four max!), maybe it’s time to try something new. Of course, finding someone is a whole other topic!

I began meeting once a month, but now, it’s changed to twice per month. I still attend my WARA monthly meeting as well. I thought at first it would be too much, but surprisingly, it has rejuvenated my love for composing stories.

I’ve discovered my two genres: suspense and paranormal. I’ve also come to the realization that the young adult field and the adult lines are my passion and I CAN write in both worlds.
It’s been the best decision of my life!

So, ask away!



Reese Mobley said...

Good critique partners are the best asset a writer can have. Good luck with your new partner. Waving at Miss J! Here's to your continuing success.

Unknown said...

Thanks Theresa. You and I have a lot in common: we don't do well with critiques, but we know it must be done in order to take the next step.

It was like walking into the health club with all these well toned, sun tanned bodies and I in a oversized T-shirt, baggy pants and my hair pulled back. I was terrified.

Now, I'm feeling so much better that I joined and I'm constantly energized every meeting!

Penny Rader said...

Tina, I'm delighted you found a critique partnership that works for you! And I so get the oversized t-shirt and baggy pants analogy. I feel that way every time I share my writing.

Becky A said...

Thanks Miss Tina for your great post. I have been wanting a critique partner but I have wondered, doesn't it need to be someone in the writing world as well? I have friends who will read my books and give some input but none of them are writers. Since I am learning a whole world of new stuff, shouldn't a partner be someone who understands the lingo? Inquiring minds want to know!!! Thanks, Becky

Pat Davids said...

This is a great post. I would never have gotten to where I am without WARA and my critique partners.

That said, I know a few published writers who've never had a critique partner and wouldn't want one. Each of us is unique in how we apply our craft.

My critique group has had several different people join us over the years, but the chemistry mix just wasn't right or the timing wasn't right. It has to feel right.

I'm delighted, DELIGHTED that you and Jeanette have a partnership that working. You are both wonderfully talented writers.

Becky, I know you're looking for a partner. WARA is small, but it's growing again. The right people will come along. There are also on-line chapters and on-line critique groups. I know Rox has on-line partners and I've heard her say she can't critique by listening to something being read, she has to see it.

Once again, we are all unique. Ain't it grand.
I bet God has a lot of fun making writers.

Rox Delaney said...

Wow, Tina! That was GREAT!

I recently attended an online workshop about critique partners/groups, and you condensed it all in fewer words and even more succinctly!

Rox Delaney said...

Pat knows me too well. :)

Over the past 13 years, I've had more critique partners than the ones I have now, although the three of us together now don't really critique. We do more brainstorming than critiquing, which is mostly an occasional "Will you look this scene over for me and see if it works?" thing. Only one "partner" has been with me from the beginning.

Pat is right that I've learned I'm a very visual person and don't absorb nearly as much by listening. That means that when someone reads their story to me, I'll miss things I shouldn't. It also explains why taking notes in classes was how I remembered lectures. Too bad I didn't realize it sooner! Each of us has to find which way is best for us.

A good (and knowledgable) critique partner can make all the difference. If you've found someone you can trust, you've found a gem, no matter in what way you critique. Sometimes it isn't easy to find the right person or people. I've heard it said hundreds of times that no agent is better than a bad agent. The same goes for critique partners or groups. Maybe even more so. With the group of WARA members I was with for a while, there wasn't one of them who didn't add something I needed.

And, Tina, I didn't know you and J were critiquing together. That's super for both of you!

snwriter52 said...

Great comments. Having thick skin is worth it's weight in gold. A great writer will develop.
I've learned a lot from my critique partners through the years.

Nina Sipes said...

Well written article. Confession. I didn't know I could write or if the work would be at all interesting for other to read. So, I gathered a group of readers to test it on and handed out questionnaires. Everyone who has read my work and told me about it, gets a questionnaire. I figure that readers were more important than writers as the readers are the end users--the one's who clunk out hard coin to buy my work. Their input and comparisons have not only buoyed my writing spirit, but also been pretty insightful.
Then, I also have someone I call my editor. Her area of pleasure reading is not romance. However, it pleases her to read and 'pencil' my work. I couldn't do without her. She's the one who noticed my hero was 3 years older than when his parents met. (talk about unintended time travel...sheesh) So, I think critique partners are where you find them. They can be anywhere and look like anyone. Writers can be treacherous because they have their own ideas of how a story should unfold and if yours doesn't match you can get a snarky comment or two. I've also received some of my best information from writer's suggestions.
Tina has some serious insight on this; by the time you get through with a critique partner or two, you'll have a better idea of the type of story you write.

Jeannie said...

Tina, very informative. A good view on what critique partners should provide.

I would never have seen print if it wasn't for my critique partners. I can't say enough for having good ones. Penny has been one of my solid supports for years now. Every one of my critique partners offers some insight or support that's critical to me.

Sometimes we just look over scenes or brainstorm like Rox says. But others we really get into putting together a good piece of work.

What you said about commitment to writing and critiquing is good, too. Sometimes it's hard to go to group when I don't have something to read, but I remind myself that one of the other members may need my support or input.

Thanks for the post, and say "hi" to J for me! We three have been WARA's weird sisters for a long time now. :-)

Joan Vincent said...

My sister used to be my critque partner--I really miss that. It is probably my own feelings of inadequacy that keep me from searching for new ones. Glad yours is working out.