• Carol Alwood

Choose the Right Critique Partner

Do you have a critique partner who breathes life into your writing?

I’ve had many writing buddies over the years. I’ve had friends who loved every word I wrote and sang my praises each time we met. On the other hand, I’ve partnered with some of the most honest ultra-critics whose feedback sent my brain into a tailspin and stopped those creative juices flowing. Either extreme is probably counter-productive.

If you shouldn’t find someone who's your biggest fan, and you don’t want someone who dismantles your every idea and sentence, then what should you search for in a critique partner? Writing partnerships are some of the most essential relationships you’ll develop on your journey toward publication.

Let’s go over a few traits in a great writing critique partner.

1. Someone who’s available when you need them. Even if you find a writing friend who is everything you want and more, if they are unable to exchange pages when you need feedback, you’re probably going to have to find someone else.

2. A writer who’s willing to speak up and listen. When you trade pages with another author, it shouldn’t only be validation for which your searching. You’re going to want someone who can provide an outsider’s point of view to make your writing stronger. Your critique partner should be able to point out holes in the plot, suggest character behaviors that don’t seem believable, and urge you to work more on pages that lack the necessary flair. In return, it’s best when they’re able to receive that kind of feedback on their writing too.

3. Look for a partner who reads about the craft of writing fiction and also stays up to date reading fiction. We all slip in our willingness or desire to grow from time to time, but in general, writers must fight to stay relevant and write well. This requires a lot of reading. A great critique partner probably talks about their favorite books and suggests new things to read.

4. A writer who writes. Again, if you find a critique partner who checks plenty of the above boxes, but fails to produce pages on a regular basis, partnering with them might spell doom. I hate to say it, but writer’s block can be contagious. When we see that our partner isn’t writing, it’s that much easier to take long and stagnant breaks too. On the other hand, the opposite of writer’s block, writer’s flow, is contagious too! When I know my friends are writing I tend to write more. That’s why online writing groups where we check in and events like Nanowrimo are so wonderful. We’re all writing together! We’re crafting pages – some good, and some bad—but we’re writing! And it’s exciting and catchy and it’s like riding a wave of words.

5. Finally, a great writing buddy is one who opens your mind rather than closing you off to possibilities. I love to ask my writing friends questions rather than tell them how I think their stories should flow. This seems to activate something in their brains rather than shut them down creatively. Don’t get me wrong, there are times I suggest possibilities, but that’s all they are. Possibilities. It’s ultimately up to my partner to create the story she wants and for me to write the one I dream of.

Here's a list of questions you can use as you swap pages with the writing friend in your life.

Critique Questions for Fiction Pages

1. Is my main character likeable? Why, or why not? Any ideas how to make them more likeable?

2. Are characters’ actions believable?

3. As you read, what questions to you have?

4. What are your favorite/least favorite parts of the story?

5. Where did you read fast because you were interested? Where did you skim because you were bored?

6. Are there any words that I use in my pages that bother you?

7. Which phrases or sentences do you love?

I’d encourage you to keep looking until you find the right critique partner. If there's nobody you know in person, there are many ways to find writing friends online. Ultimately, keep in mind a great partner helps you keep writing and reflecting so your writing becomes the best it can be.

Happy writing, my friends!

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