Partners in Writing: How To Make the Most of Your Critique Group
Writing is often considered an independent practice, but what if it didn’t have to be? Author Annie Rains shares how to make the most of a critique group.
When people ask my best writing advice, having a good critique partner(s) is always high on my list. I spent years writing books and trying to get published on my own, garnering an entire binder of rejection letters. It wasn’t until I started attending my local writers’ chapter and found my critique partner and then my small critique group of five that I started making advances toward my publishing goals.
(28 Writing Prompts for the 2023 Flash Fiction Challenge)
When I met my first critique partner, I doubt I had even heard of the term critique partner. We met at our local writing chapter and found that we were in a similar place on our writing journeys. We had both written our first novels and were in the process of querying literary agents and collecting no thank yous and send me mores, but neither of us had gotten that coveted yes from an agent yet. We decided to trade books for critique. Having an outside person tell me what was and wasn’t working with my book, and offering me suggestions for what she thought would make my book stronger was invaluable. We were able to merge our knowledge and experience to strengthen each other’s work. That’s when the magic happened and both of us began to get more traction with our queries!
Eventually, my critique partner and I met three other women on similar writing journeys and this has constructed our critique group for the better part of a decade now. We don’t always read all of each other’s books in the editing stages—because we all have deadlines—but we do help with the planning and plotting stages of our books. I’m not sure where I’d be without my critique group—probably still querying agents and filling up my binder of rejection slips. What I do know, however, is that being an author is less lonely when you have partners to support you.
What Are the Benefits of Having a Critique Partner?
One benefit of having a critique partner (CP) is that it pushed me to learn more about my craft. My CP and I took classes online and attended conferences together, using this knowledge to make our own and each other’s work shine. It’s never a competition with your critique partner, but it’s motivating to learn and do more when you’re walking side by side.
What Should One Look for in a Critique Partner?
I think it’s important to be in similar stages of your career for a true partnership that’s mutually beneficial. I also think that a critique partner should be mutually invested in your work. Critiquing for someone involves a lot of time and effort. If you’re putting in your most valuable resources for someone else’s project, they should return the favor.
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Another key element for a good critique partner is honesty. Yes, we all want to be told our work is amazing, but it’s a million times more valuable to have someone who also tells you where your book needs fixing and why. A good critique partner offers constructive criticism that elevates your story. They do this while lifting you up and never tearing you down.
Where Do You Find a Critique Partner?
I found my first partner at my local writers’ group. Every month, I had to drive two hours each way to join my group, but it was more than worthwhile. I connected with the other three women in my critique group online. They were all part of a national writing organization that I was involved with, and we started to message privately. From there, we met in person at annual conferences.
Left to right: Tif Marcelo, Jeanette Escudero, Annie Rains, Rachel Lacey, April Hunt
If you’re looking for a critique partner, a good first step is joining your local and/or national organization where you can connect with likeminded authors who are writing in similar genres. There are often resources through these organizations to locate critique partners.
How Do You Keep Your Critique Partnership Alive?
My critique group has really become a part of my daily life. We have a running chat in our direct messages where we talk about writing all day long, every day. We plan regular Zoom sessions to plot our books and pitches for future books. We exchange our work and promote each other’s new releases and sales. We also try to get together for conferences in person, although that hasn’t been as frequent since the pandemic.
A healthy critique partner relationship requires time and effort. As a writer, it’s easy to isolate yourself because much of the job requires solitude. In my experience, reaching out and making that connection with other authors, however, is one of the most beneficial things a writer can do. Two heads (or more) is almost always better than one, especially when it comes to writing your book!
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