Writing partners can give you invaluable feedback and help bring your writing to the next level—and beyond!
Becoming part of a critique group is one of the best things I’ve done for my writing.
Before that, I was writing in a vacuum, getting only occasional feedback from classmates and teachers. When I became virtual friends with one of those classmates, Mary Beth, she asked me for probably one year to form a critique group with her. It took me that long to get up the nerve to do it.
Don’t Let Fear Stop You
I was afraid of exposing myself and putting myself up for criticism.
Take it from the voice of experience (me!): don’t let fear stop you from sharing your stories with critique partners. Their feedback will be invaluable. Unlike the feedback you might get from friends and family, in a critique group, you’ll receive unbiased advice from fellow writers who know the craft.
Choosing Writing Partners
Whether you’re forming a critique group or looking to join an existing one, there are different places where you can find writing partners. Check with your writer friends, with local writers groups, with writers organizations. Put out an announcement on your Facebook page or Twitter account.
When Mary Beth and I formed our online critique group, we wanted fellow children’s writers as partners, so we put out a call on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) chat forum.
We then interviewed (via email) the respondents, and read samples of their work. We wanted to limit the group to six and soon found our partners. We’ve been together now for almost ten years!
We were lucky, but it can be tough to find a good fit, and you might have to try more than one group before settling in with like-minded writers. When we started our group, we were all newbies, and we helped each other learn the craft, the ins and outs of publishing, how to submit to agents and editors. We encouraged each other when our spirits dove after a rejection—or a devastating personal matter.
You might end up in a group where the writers have different levels of experience, and that can work as well.
Critique Group Guidelines
Following are some guidelines Mary Beth and I wrote for our group that might be helpful if you’re forming your own critique group.
Another good source of information is The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide by Becky Levine and published by Writers Digest Books.
Critique Group Guidelines:
*Decide how many people you want in your group. We thought six was a good number.
*Decide how you’ll submit your manuscripts. If online, will it be via email (attachment as Word doc or copied and pasted), Yahoo group, or another method?
*Limit the number of words for each submission. We limit ours to 2500 words, which might average 1-2 chapters.
*Submit your best effort. Before submitting, check for spelling, grammar, etc. Allow revisions of previously critiqued submissions.
*Decide on a sequence for submissions. We do the following:
For members A, B, C, D, E and F:
Monday Week 1: A & B submit manuscripts and members prepare critiques of both.
Monday Week 2: C & D submit manuscripts and members prepare critiques of both.
Members turn in A & B critiques. A & B review and can ask questions.
Monday Week 3: E & F submit manuscripts and members prepare critiques of both.
Members turn in C & D critiques. C & D review and can ask questions.
Monday Week 4: A & B submit manuscripts and members prepare critiques of both.
Members turn in E & F critiques. E & F review and can ask questions.
*If a member can’t submit on their day, let other members know. Someone else may take that slot.
*When new members are added to the group, consider having a trial period of one critique cycle, which can benefit the new member as well as existing members. When the cycle is complete, all members can answer a questionnaire to determine their satisfaction with the critique group’s process. The questionnaire can also be circulated periodically to identify problem areas, possible solutions, future direction of the group, or to modify a procedure that doesn’t work for all members. In other words, keep communication open!
•Constructive criticism is the key.
•Comment on the overall picture (plot, characters, dialogue)
•Include strengths and weaknesses of the story.
•Include specific comments (such as basic editing, point of view errors, deadwood) and give your reasoning for any changes you suggest.
•Comments can be added within the text and/or before or after the text.
•If comments are added within the text, identify them with some distinguishing means (CAPS, brackets, different font). For this, we use brackets for deletions, and CAPS for additions. For Word docs, “track changes” works well.
Do you belong to a critique group? How did you join or form it, and how is it working for you?