They say that no man is an island, and that’s probably especially true of writers. Sure, we spend a considerable part of our lives holed up in an office/couch/coffeeshop typing imaginary worlds in solitude—but when it comes to taking the next step, to seeing our writing ability grow and develop beyond what we feel we’re capable of, there’s one thing we really, really need:
Good critique partners.
Critique partners are like the superheroes of the writing world. A good CP can do so many things for you: Help you hone in on the areas your writing is weak and build them up, keep you accountable to your writing goals, give you a pep talk when you’re this close to quitting altogether.
But the growth goes both ways—because in a normal CP relationship you switch work regularly, you’ll also have the chance to improve your skills by learning how to pinpoint the places that other writers’ books fall short… and then look for those same weaknesses in your own books. Both being critiqued and critiquing can be huge sources of improvement for your writing!
“Hang on a second,” you’re thinking. “I’ve had my mom read my books, and she’s a pretty tough critic. She caught all my typos! Isn’t that enough?”
As much fun as it is to have family and close friends read your work (my dad is one of my go-to early readers!), there’s a 99.99999% chance that you’re not actually going to get good objective feedback from them. And, unless they’re talented writers in their own right, there’s an even higher chance that they won’t be able to give you the kind of feedback that you really need, because they won’t be familiar enough with writing techniques to be able to help you fine-tune things like plot structure, characterization, and emotional resonance.
And even if they’re not related to you, not all CPs are created equal. I’ve had a lot of CPs in my career, and they’ve definitely been a mixed bag—some that were lifesavers, others who were unhelpful or downright damaging. Sometimes, finding good CPs can be a little like dating: You might have to exchange first chapters (or whole manuscripts) with several different people before finding the one you really click with. It’s always wise to go into a new CP relationship with the understanding that it’s on a trial basis, and that there will be no hard feelings if you turn out not to be a great fit.
So how do you go about finding CPs?
Lucky for you, the internet is full of resources for finding good critique partners, and real life is, too!
If you’re looking for in-person writing groups or somebody you can sit down and grab coffee with while brainstorming or going over your MSs together, check out groups on Meetup.com, the calendar of your local library (many offer writer’s groups!), or local branches of national organizations like SCBWI or RWA.
If it works best for you to do your CPing on-screen, never fear! New resources pop up all the time. Here are some I’ve seen in action:
- Maggie Stiefvater’s yearly Critique Partner Love Connection.
- A few author friends of mine host a Write Type CP Match event several times a year.
- Author Megan Lally hosts a Twitter #CPMatch a few times a year as well.
You can also meet online CPs through forums, Twitter, and online writing contests! I know several writer friends who have connected with CPs during online Twitter pitch parties like #PitMad. Many of my own CPs have come through my participation in Pitch Wars.
It can take time to build up a circle of trusted critique partners, and at times it can feel discouraging—but don’t give up. Finding good CPs can take your writing to places you’ve never imagined you could go before, and while that may sound like hyperbole, it’s totally true! Good critique partners will help you stretch, grow, address your weaknesses, and deepen your strengths, all of which will take your writing up to the next level.
Going on the CP search can feel intimidating (which is also kind of like dating, come to think of it). But it’s important to remember that there are many, many writers out there in your shoes, eager to connect with potential critique partners. Developing a good CP relationship takes time, effort, and patience, but both your writing and your creative life will be deeply enriched by the process!