Thursday, July 19, 2012

Getting the most from critique partners

Writing is a solitary experience. We sit in front of our computers and pour our heart and soul on to the pages. When we read the result of our labors we are probably stunned with our sheer genius and amazing ability to produce crap.

There's only one way to really know the difference and that's by letting other people read our work. Scary!
Waiting on comments can be a real nail-biter CC

Even if you have amazing critique partners who willingly read your work through countless revisions, you only get one chance to get their first reaction to your story. Here are a few tips that I've picked up to help me get the most out of the generous people who help to make me a better writer.

1. Don't submit a first draft
This one isn't agreed on universally, but for me, it's a standing rule for my work. I know that first draft is rough. I know I have spelling and grammar mistakes, missing words and poorly conjugated verbs. And those are just the grammar issues.

A CP is going to be distracted by all these things and that means they aren't paying attention to what you really want them to focus on, the writing. Take the time to fix the things you know are wrong or aren't working so your CPs can help you where you need it most.

2. Don't be afraid to ask questions.
If you are lucky enough to meet with your CPs in person, it's easy enough to ask about their comments. But don't let a long distance relationship get in the way of maximizing the relationship. Your partner wouldn't have mentioned it if it wasn't important so if you don't understand something, just ask.

3. Apply single comments across the novel.
On page 48 your CP circles a conversation and writes "add more body movement, facial expressions". Great, you jump right into page 48 and that dialogue is now rocking your face off. But don't stop there. Look at all your dialogue and see if it needs some movement as well.

Some CPs will not repeat themselves out of fear of sounding like a nag. And honestly, they shouldn't have to keep telling you the same thing. Chances are if you have an issue in one section, that same problem pops up at least a few other times in your work.

4. You don't have to agree with every change/comment.
Don't forget that this is still your book and critiques are subjective. There are a million ways to write a novel and everyone will do it slightly different. And isn't that a good thing? Read all the comments and be sure to thank your critiquers, but at the end of the day you have to do what's right for your work.

5. Don't ignore a comment.
I think this is the most important tip and if you take away nothing else, remember this one. Even if you don't agree with a comment, it still contains merit. You might get a critique telling you the MCs reaction to a situation feels out of character. You read it and ignore it because you know that's exactly how your MC would react.

And maybe you're right, but if your partner didn't sense that then you might be missing some key personality reveals earlier in the book. Just keep in mind that every comment was prompted by something a reader felt about your writing. If you chose not to make a change, make sure you understand why and not just because you don't want to.

Now it's your turn. What are your best tips for maximizing critique partnerships?


  1. Great tips. I usually wait until I've revised a piece as much as I can before I send it to my CPs. Then I get the most out of their critiques. CPs are there to make your work better, not to write it for you, so giving them a first draft with plot holes, is never good.

  2. I don't submit a first draft because I don't want to embarrass myself (my first drafts are usually a steaming pile of crud). Great advice, though, especially on how to apply critiques and how to more fully consider them (was this scene really the issue, or is it the previous chapter?)

    1. I'm with you. No one sees my first drafts but me! :)

  3. I have trouble with #3. I have a CP who tells me I need more concrete description and one who always wants more character feelings. I know I need to apply these across the board, but it's hard, and I'm kinda lazy about it... But I keep trying. :-)

    1. I hear ya. I'm really bad at forgetting to add movement and facial expressions to my dialogue. I told my CPs to stop expecting so many from my characters. :P

      I just have to go back when I'm editing and look through every dialogue scene. My constant question is: could this tag be a movement or expression to add more depth to the story. It gets old, but I have a better piece when I'm done.

  4. Well, I have just submitted a novel to Beta readers. I think BR's job is to give overall impressions and CP's are to give specifics? If that's rong, please tell me. I haven't had the time to be able to establish an online presence strong enough to connect with people to develop relationships substantial enough to ask for such a time investment. I look at the differences as the difference between a book review (Beta Read) and an analysis (CP).

    Here's the interesting thing- I got these Betas by approaching one individual who suggested that two other friends of hers also do the read. I didn't know them, but said sure.

    I have heard back from 3 of the 4 Betas so far, and will hear from the fourth by the end of the week. Two of the readers were incredibly helpful. My original contact and one of her referrals. The third one... wow... it was a brief, five or six sentence long cruel condemnation across the board. It was more in line with some twelve year old kid saying 'It SUCKS because I said so!'. A grenade lobbed over the wall and run away.

    Naturally, after I calmed down, I was able to dismiss that third one; my skin thickened up, and at the end of the day my writing will improve.

    I look at this process as going back to school, and getting grades. Except my teachers are doing it for free!


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