Because critique partner relationships are so dear to me, I’ll be blogging on this topic for a while. If you happen to be of the anti-feedback persuasion, feel free to roll on elsewhere. But if you’re an expert juggler of critique partners and have found different methods that work great for your process, please share them in the comments!
When I first sought feedback on my writing, I hit a lot of personal and social roadblocks, and I’d love to help others avoid the same. I had no idea what I needed in critique or how to give it, how to process feedback or act on it, let alone how to find CPs and work with them. I’m here for all you precious newcomers to gathering feedback, because I’ve been there–confused and desperate to learn.
I’ll go over the basics first–the types of critique relationships and how they work.
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of critiquing, you have to choose what level of interaction you’re comfortable having with potential critique partners: in-person, online, or a variation between.
General Tip: Regardless of the setting, respect others’ space and time, and don’t behave or permit others to behave in ways that cause harm or shame.
Since in-person critiquing pretty much has the same boundary concerns any other social environment between mutual acquaintances has, I won’t focus on that now. Instead, let’s look at types of common online critique relationships.
In a single swap, two writers swap an agreed-upon length of work, which is usually a set number of pages or chapters. When arranging this swap, it’s good practice to state the expected time frame.
This can be as awkward as a blind date. Be patient, considerate, and wary.
Tip: ALWAYS start with a single swap before making a larger or longer commitment.
Return your feedback, and be gracious. Check in if your single swap seems to be taking forever (longer than agreed), but respect your potential partner’s time. Being pushy, argumentative, or expectant can result in getting ghosted.
If it goes well, awesome! Decide together if you want to keep swapping and how. If not, relax; it’s normal. You may find writers you connect with on a hundred levels, but that doesn’t mean you’ll connect with each other’s work. It’s not necessary to connect with works still in progress, but it won’t hurt. You can stay writing friends without being CPs.
This kind of swap naturally follows the initial single swap if all went well. You may not be best friends yet, but you find a sync together that’s powerful. Whatever terms you decide on, it’s important to be honest if those terms become too demanding. Critiquing is valuable emotional labor–don’t discount your needs!
Pro Tip: COMMUNICATION is everything!! If you’re stuck, if you can’t meet a return deadline, or if you feel you aren’t getting what you need most from feedback, SPEAK UP!
I’ve had so many fantastic experiences with critique teams, and I can’t recommend them highly enough. Teams are usually a group of 3-5 writers who swap on a regular basis.
My favorite setup is The Ubergroup‘s draft team design: 4-6 teammates–matched by writing goals, genres, age categories, and/or critique styles–who swap a chapter per week in 6-week cycles (with one week off between). It’s rigorous, demanding, and oh-so-rewarding for building and maintaining craft discipline.
This format allows for relationship-building, story-investment, deep craft study, discussion, and all manner of benefits that come from being a team player involved with in each others’ lives. It takes time to work through a full novel, yes, but you have plenty of time to delve line by line, page by page, into each others’ stories. And when they reach the end, they’re fully-informed about your vision and story strengths to help you polish submission materials.
Pro Tip: Seek out writers who have craft experience you don’t, not just writers on the same leg of their writing journey. Learn from each other.
I’ve heard, but not confirmed, that many local writing associations have similar swap team arrangements, both in-person and online.
Open swaps encompass everything else. Maybe you critique for someone, and they betaread your work. Maybe you help with queries and submission materials, while your partner dives into plotting and worldbuilding your new project. I work with some CPs who never share their early drafts, so our partnerships focus on sharing craft books and podcasts, practicing techniques together, and creating character charts.
Do what works!
General Tip: Open swaps feel suspiciously like friendship. Cherish the emotional labor others give you, because it’s a gift.
A quick list of what swapping (of any kind) can do for the writing journey:
- Build/strengthen relationships
- Grow your craft in new and unexpected directions
- Develop craft skills through practice and validation
- Get advice from experts in other fields
- Add authenticity by broadening your perspective
- Discover new writing opportunities
- Improve your plot, prose, dialog, setting, worldbuilding, grammar, vocabulary, narrative voice, characterization, pacing, and overall storytelling
- THICKEN YOUR SKIN
Writing is hard, but it shouldn’t be lonely. From idea creation to final product, input from critique partners is priceless. They are your characters’ first fans, your worlds’ first visitors, your secret weapons against stagnation, the ones who will commiserate with your rejections and celebrate your successes.
Next month I’ll explore some dos/don’ts of these critique relationships and red flags to watch out for with new (or even longtime) CPs. Please let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to add to this discussion? I’m always open to feedback!