Once you’ve finished your manuscript and gone over it with a fine tooth comb, the time comes to consider, “What will readers perceive as they read my book, and, more importantly, will agents/publishers take one look at my work and throw it in the trash?” This is when having a critique partner can be invaluable to your revision process. I’ve recently finished my first couple of drafts and have hooked up with a critique partner. Even though we’ve only exchanged a couple of chapters my novel is already reaping the benefits. Here are a few ways having a critique partner can improve your writing:
1. A critique partner looks over your manuscript with fresh eyes. When you’ve been immersed in your book for so long it can be hard to distance yourself enough from your novel to see the little things. One thing I didn’t notice after my first round of revisions was just how much I used the words ‘that’ and ‘was’ in my writing. I know these are problematic words when overused, but I guess in the course of my revisions I overlooked them. When my critique partner sent back my first chapter with all the words ‘that’ and ‘was’ highlighted I realised just how much I used them.
2. A critique partner has no preconceived notions. As the author of your novel you know your characters inside out, you know the world you’ve created to the tiniest detail and you know the entire backstory of your storyline. Because you know everything about your characters, world and plotline you may unknowingly forget that your readers don’t know what you know and you unwittingly leave out necessary details. A critique partner reads your manuscript with none of the preconceived ideas you have and can point out where your story becomes confusing.
3. A critique partner can act as a beta reader. Your critique partner will read your story as a reader would read it. When I critique I tend to write notes on my first impressions as I read and ask the questions a reader would be asking. This helps show you how your future readers, or more importantly an agent or publisher, would be thinking as they read your work. If your critique partner is confused, you can be sure an agent/publisher/reader will be confused too. If your critique partner tells you a certain scene makes their eyes glaze over, you can be sure an agent/publisher/reader’s eyes will be glazing over too (and you can be sure they’ll be putting the book down).
4. A critique partner can offer you constructive criticism. Unlike a beta reader (someone who reads your work from the perspective of a future reader, ie: someone in your target readership), a critique partner is a writer too, so they will read you work from the perspective of a writer. This means instead of just telling you a certain scene isn’t working, they can actually articulate why it isn’t working.
5. Being a critique partner helps you see flaws in your own writing. Critiquing someone else’s work can make you become more aware of your own writing and your own flaws. You may notice in your partner’s writing a tendency to over-describe characters physical attributes, only to realise you’ve done exactly the same thing in your own novel. I’ve also found that after looking over someone else’s work with a critical eye, when I go back to my own work I retain that critical eye and pick up on flaws in my own writing I missed before. It helps me stand back from my own work.
If you do find a critique partner keep a few things in mind as you critique and receive critique:
1. Be constructive. For example, if you feel your partner’s characters are flat, try to explain why. Remember the point of critique is to help the other person improve.
2. Don’t rewrite the story for them. While it’s okay to suggest rewording a sentence to make the meaning clearer, don’t write the sentence for them. It’s their work, and as tempting as it is to write it how you think it should be written, you need to realise the story is their baby. Imagine how you would feel if they started rewriting your story! Offer suggestions and act as a guide, but don’t take over.
3. Be respectful. I believe in being totally honest when I critique, but there’s a difference between being honest and being nasty.
4. Include the positives as well as the negatives. Don’t forget to tell your partner what is working well in their story.
5. Be open-minded when receiving critique. If you partner up with someone you must be prepared to take any criticism they give you and not take it personally. Don’t sign up for a critique partner if you just want to hear good things about your novel. When I put up my ad for a critique partner I said straight out that I would be honest when I critique and I expected the same in return. If I wanted to hear only good things about my novel I could have easily given it to my sister and had her tell me how much she liked it (because I know my sister is too nice to hurt my feelings, and I love her for it). But I wanted honest critique from another writer, someone prepared to rip my manuscript to shreds, because that is the only way I can improve as a writer. Sure, you might feel like crying the first time you receive critique back on your novel, but once you take a deep breath and remember your critique partner is only there to help you, you can appreciate their honesty and start using their advice to help you create a better story.
One last piece of advice…
In the end remember that your novel is your baby.
As a mother lots of people have given me advice over the years on how I should raise my kids (if you have kids you’ll know what I mean!), and that’s fine, everyone has their own opinion on what works best for them and their kids, but I only listen to the advice I think will work for my kids and disregard the rest. When I was a new mum I was overwhelmed with advice (sometimes conflicting advice) and I felt obligated to take it all. In the end I realised that it was my child and, as much as people were trying to help, only I knew what was best. Once I realised this I was a lot less stressed.
The same thing can be applied to your novel. In the end it is your story and you don’t have to feel obligated to take all the advice given to you. Do what’s right for your novel. And the same applies for your critique partner too. You can give advice and critique, but don’t feel hurt if your partner doesn’t apply everything you suggest, because it is their baby.
If you are looking for a critique partner, here are a couple of links to sites with critique connections (both are for YA/kidlit writers, so if you write outside of those you may have to do a search):
This is where I found my current critique partner. You can either scroll down the list of people who have already posted an interest in finding a partner and e-mail them, or if none there seem like a good match, then post a little about you and your novel and leave your e-mail. Writers here range from picture book writers to young adult writers.
This forum is dedicated mostly to young adult writers, but you may also find som middle grade writers too. Scroll through the comments to seeif anyone might be a good match, or post your own comment describing what your novel is about. You will need to join to be able to post (but it’s well worth joining anyway if you write YA).
Many cities also have critique groups. Check out your local library or do a search on the internet to see if there are any in your area.
How has having a critique partner helped your writing? Comment below and share.