Monday, November 21, 2011

Aussie Writer on the Journey: What I've learned from my critique partners

by Narelle Atkins

Over the years I’ve been blessed to work with a number of critique partners and participate in critique groups.

A critique partner is a writing friend with whom you swap manuscripts for the purpose of critiquing and helping each other achieve your mutual goal of publication. There are no hard and fast rules. Some critique partners review one chapter at a time, others wait until the whole manuscript is complete before critiquing.

Critique partner relationships often work well if you partner with writers who are at a similar level to you. There needs to be a level of trust in the relationship, where you know you can provide gentle and honest feedback that will be appreciated by the recipient. If you’re looking for someone to tell you that your book is great, then give it to your mother. I believe a critique partner relationship is ineffective if it’s primarily a mutual admiration society.

I do tend to become emotionally attached to my critique partner’s stories and characters, as I’ve watched them evolve and develop through various story drafts. I brainstorm with my critique partners and we support and pray for each other. I value our friendships and we celebrate each other’s writing achievements and commiserate when we receive rejections.

Some critique partners and critique groups are there for a season, and others are more long term or evolve in different directions. I’m currently working in an online critique partnership with my dear writing friends Suzie Johnson and Stacy Monson. I met Suzie and Stacy though the Faith, Hope & Love Inspirational Chapter of RWA and they both live in the US. My dear friend Laura O’Connell and I met through Romance Writers of Australia and for a number of years we have critiqued each other’s work. Initially we swapped chapters and now we exchange complete manuscripts.

It can be hard to find the right critique partner, and it may take time to find someone or a group that works for you. When I was a newbie writer, my first face-to-face romance writing critique group were very kind and encouraging even though my story had massive issues and I was slowly learning the craft of writing. I’ve since moved cities and lost touch with those writers, but I will always appreciate their gentle encouragement.

I encourage you to find writing friends with whom you can develop an effective critique relationship. Sure, you can pay a manuscript appraisal service to critique your story, but you will miss out on the wonderful learning opportunities you can gain from critiquing someone else’s manuscript. And also miss out on the joy of watching your critique buddies publish and achieve their writing goals.

Do you have a critique partner or belong to a critique group? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.




Narelle Atkins writes contemporary inspirational romance. She resides in Canberra, Australia with her husband and children. She can also be found at the International Christian Fiction Writers blog. To learn more about Narelle, please visit her website.

26 comments:

  1. I'm looking forward to working with some critique partners. We're in the process of setting it up. So far I have a good friend who reads everything I write and is very good at picking out my inconsistencies. So helpful! Thanks for the post. :)

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  2. Thanks for encouraging this type of relationship, Narelle. I can see how much it has meant to you over the years.

    I've been working with two critique partners for a few years now. One is Australian and a wonderful writing mentor I couldn't be without, and the other is from Tennessee and a great test reader. She tells me what will work in my story for a non-Australian audience and what won't. Both partners help me in different ways, and are a part of the team God has chosen to surrounded me. With writing being a solitary business most days, it's great to have others to bounce things off isn't it?

    Blessings
    Dotti :)

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  3. Thank you so much for this post, Narelle. So far, my husband has been my only - but very effective - critique partner. His input is invaluable because his mind works very differently to mine (we always joke about the opposing ways in which we do things). But your post has now inspired me to pray for other partners who are writers themselves. In the past, I have shied away from such relationships because I haven't had the time to faithfully reciprocate, but now I will seriously pray about it and make the time for reciprocation. Thank you for the inspiration, Narelle!

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  4. I've found that I get the most objective critiques from people who don't know me, which isn't surprising. Friends and relatives are predisposed to like what you write. I've had some very useful reviews from members of the Australian Writers' Forum (http://forum.catplace.net).

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  5. What a wonderful idea, Narelle. I don't have anyone like that. Members of my family read some of my work and give valuable comments, but because they are always positive, I suspect that either they are not brutally honest with me or they don't quite have the critical expertise to see where my writing weaknesses are. I will be praying for a critique partner.

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  6. Amanda, it's great to hear there will soon be resources here for those of us looking for critique partners :) And, I agree that readers are an invaluable resource because they look at our work from a different perspective to other writers.

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  7. Thanks for your interesting post Narelle. That did give me something new to think about. I don't have any to date - but do realise how invaluable they would be. Hmm... how does one find them? I do get opinions sometimes from family and friends but that is not enough. So... here's hoping I will find a good critique partner soon. Am just polishing up book two to send to the Publishers - so it certainly is a good time to find one.
    Thanks Narelle!
    Blessings,
    Anusha

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  8. Dotti, I'm glad you have wonderful critique partners who help you in different ways :) For those of us looking to sell in the US or overseas it's so helpful to have critique partners who pick up all the Aussie expressions that don't translate to an international audience. Or words that we commonly use eg. thongs that have very different meanings in other countries.

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  9. What can I say? I love critique partners. I love being able to toss around ideas, the honesty that comes from that type of a relationship. Also, they become wonderful prayer partners too.

    We have a few people looking for critique partners on Facebook, so feel free to advertise there. :)

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  10. Margaret, it's great you have a supportive husband who helps you with your writing :) Supportive spouses are a valuable resource and I appreciate input from my husband, especially on the male point of view. I hope you can find a critique partner to work with very soon.

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  11. Peter, I agree that strangers will tell the truth because they aren't concerned about offending us. I often tell my cp's what I think isn't working, and they can usually pinpoint the problems that I can't see because I'm too close to my work. I'm glad you've received helpful feedback from the Australian Writers' Forum.

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  12. Debbie, I hope you can find a critique partner soon :) I'm glad your family are supportive and I suspect you're probably right - a combination of them wanting to see the best in your work and not knowing enough about craft to hone in on specific issues. For example, if we are head hopping and switching to different viewpoints every second paragraph, a reader may say they struggle to connect with the characters and get into the story but a writer will recognize that we have issues with point of view.

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  13. Anusha, I hope you can find a critique partner very soon :) Writing organizations usually have programs to help members find critique groups and critique partners.
    If you're writing non-fiction, then you're looking for critique partners who have either expertise in the subject matter or strong technical writing skills or both. I'm currently writing leaders guides for Bible studies I'm planning to self publish as eBooks next year. I'm fortunate that my friend Deb, who co-wrote the study questions, is both knowledgable and great at technical writing. I hope this helps!

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  14. Lee, I totally agree :) And the Facebook group is a good option for connecting with other writers who are looking for critique partners.

    I encourage you all to not be shy and to contact each other. You can always do a 'test run' and critique a small sample of each other's work to see if you click. And please don't be discouraged if it takes time to find the right critique partners fir you.

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  15. Thanks Narelle,
    This is an arrangement which brings the best of out us in developing critiquing skills too, so it's a win-win situation.
    I really enjoyed meeting you in person in Brisbane.
    Blessings,
    Paula

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  16. Thanks for a good post Narelle. Great to spend time with you when you were in Brisbane!
    I'd love a critique partner/s.
    My emphasis will always be on knowing and growing in God. My book is a family drama. Anyone interested in being my buddy?

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  17. Hey, Narelle!

    I am so blessed to have two fabulous critique partners, and I can't wait to see what next year brings for us!

    Great post, and I totally agree that a critique partner who only gives praise is not the most helpful. Praise is nice, but we also want to always grow.

    Thanks, Narelle!

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  18. Paula, I agree critique relationships are a win-win for everyone and it was lovely to meet you in person in Brisbane :)

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  19. Jo, it was great to hang out with you and Jowellyn in Brisbane and I hope you can find a critique partner very soon :)

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  20. Suzie, thanks for stopping by :) I'm looking forward to doing a lot of writing and critiquing in 2012!

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  21. Hi Narelle, I hope you don't mind me butting in the conversation ;) I run the site http://LadiesWhoCritique.com, a place for writers to find good, reliable critique partners. I started the site precisely because I saw what I am seeing from some of your commenters; it's not easy to find good critique partners, and not all of us have the time or ability to attend an in-person critique group. If anyone would like to join our growing community, the site is free and always will be. We welcome you to check us out :)

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  22. Laura, thanks for letting us know about your website :) I visited your site and it's great to find a free website resource that is helping writers connect with critique partners.

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  23. Sounds like a good idea. Have yet to find one, other than my spouse. Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts.

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  24. I think this is why I love collaborating so much. I have also been very blessed with writing friends who are willing to gently guide me through the editing of my work.

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  25. I have several people who are not writers, but readers that critique for me. They are great help, and very good at suggesting improvements.

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  26. CPs are valuable to our writing. This year I've worked with several, and for many reasons I'm down to one that I work with for YA, one for chapter books and an online group for picture books. I do think more than one would be much better so you can compare feedback. So i'm still looking. :)
    Xx

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