What is a critique partner?
A critique partner is someone who gives detailed feedback on your writing. Unlike beta readers, these are people you swap stories with. There is a bigger element of give-and-take in this relationship, and it is one I have found incredibly valuable.
To give more of an insight into what a critique partner is and what they do, I had a little chat with my very lovely CP Emma Bradley.
How did you find each other?
Emma: I was inconsolable at not getting picked for the WriteMentor 2019 summer mentor program, but Anna posted in their Facebook group that she was looking for a critique partner. I messaged back to say ‘yes please’ and she’s been stuck with me ever since!
Anna: Ha! I was feeling the same. I was gutted that I didn’t get picked, mainly because I really wanted another pair of eyes on my work. Posting in the group was a bit of a brave thing for me, but Emma responded almost immediately and was super nice.
What boundaries did you have in place before you started swapping?
Emma: I would no doubt have ploughed in with swapping whole manuscripts, but Anna suggested a chapter a week or thereabouts which proved to be a great pace for us to work at. We were both quite clear about wanting someone who could be thoughtful with feedback rather than cutting or blunt, but still able to pinpoint all the niggly (and absolutely glaring in my case) issues.
Anna: I have a tendency to take on more than I can actually manage and then stress myself out, so I was really clear about only wanting to swap one chapter a week, despite wanting to do more! This has worked really well. We didn’t set any firm boundaries in terms of the kind of feedback we would provide, but after the first chapter it was apparent we worked in similar ways – both thorough and enthusiastic!
How did you know you wanted to keep working together?
Emma: We just never stopped! Once we’d finished swapping one MS we would take a break and move onto another, or in my case abandon one of mine most of the way through and get excitable about the next one. It’s not just the feedback either – having a friend who understands the writing highs and lows is invaluable.
Anna: I had a few people respond to the request I put in the group, but it was clear to me as soon as Emma and I swapped critiques that I would want to keep working with her. She returned her feedback quickly, and spotted really helpful things.
I always make it clear when I’m starting off with a new CP that I think we should just swap one or two chapters to begin with to see if we are a good fit. This gives both of us a chance to see if we work well together and there are no hard feelings if one of you doesn’t feel quite right about it.
How often and what do you swap now that you have been critique partners for a while?
Emma: We’re quite flexible now, although I tend to forget to send things and end up flapping when she tells me off! Whether it’s something we’ve been working on or just a quick idea, the ability to get someone else’s thoughts on it before you sink the next however many months is a big help. Anna’s moved more into thriller/psychological of late, while I’ve marched firmly down the middle-grade route, but it’s brilliant to have a completely different brain involved!
Anna: I only tell Emma off because I want to read more of her stories! They are really engaging and working with them so closely means I get really invested in the characters and want to know what they are up to next. Like Emma said, at the moment we are writing quite different books but her input is still so valuable. I also send Emma any blog posts I’m working on so that she can make sure they make sense! She’s become my writing-sounding-board.
Do you gain anything from critiquing someone else’s work?
Emma: I definitely get a lot from critiquing. Aside from the joy of reading unknown stories and thinking I could one day be seeing them in bookshops (and going ‘omg, I know that person’), everyone has a different approach. Your way of describing anger for example could be completely different to someone else’s, and you get great writing/wording insight by seeing the many perspectives. You also start to recognise mistakes in their story and suddenly they’re glaringly visible in your own!
Anna: I gain MANY things. Firstly, I get to read stories before anyone else, which really makes me happy. I will be so giddy when I see Emma’s books in shops! It also helps me develop a critical eye for my own work. Often, a mistake I spot in Emma’s work is one that I’ll then find in my own. Working on her stories has made my own storytelling stronger.
What are the best bits of having a critique partner?
Emma: It has to be the writer camaraderie. I’m repeating myself, but it’s so important to have someone who understands. They know how crushing a rejection is and can cheer you on when you finally remember where the comma is meant to go! Anna’s recently started her rejection course and it’s been so lovely getting to see her teaching the ins and outs of querying and coping with all the bumps of it. 100% recommend getting yourself a critique partner (but hands off mine!)
Anna: Ha 😊 The same – it is so lovely so share more closely in this writing journey with someone. I love watching Emma’s style develop and change, and reading her many stories is so much fun. It’s reassuring to know that someone will give me really honest feedback – since we have been doing this for a while now we can we a bit more honest with one another!
If you can, find yourself a critique partner. You might strike out with a few people, but that’s okay. Not everyone is going to be a perfect fit. When you find the right person, it is worth it – it will only ever make your writing stronger and hopefully you’ll find a new cheerleader!