"Is it normal for writers to have writing partners or would a Crit group serve the same purpose? Which would you recommend?"
This is a question illustrator Wilson Williams, Jr. (aka Mighty Kwan) asked in a comment on my Friday post, where I talked about my progress on my OctAnNoNaNoWriMowithNoGuilt-o pursuits, as well as my writing partner's encouragement.
I tried to answer Wilson's question in a comment, but realized rather quickly that I had a lot to say. So here's my more drawn-out answer:
It's normal for writers to seek out feedback wherever they can get it.
People may imagine a solitary writer, sitting quietly in her bower, scribbling her heart out. Most of us probably started out that way (minus the bower). However, the mind in solitary confinement is a troubling place. Sometimes writers think they're really good, and can't understand why they receive rejection after rejection. Other writers think they're really bad, and can't find the courage to send their writing out to agents and editors. Most writers are both good and bad, depending on the day. Some writers don't care about publication at all, but want to get better. Most of us get lonely.
What kind of feedback we seek out (and what I recommend) depends on our needs and circumstances. Some writers form writing groups, online or in-person, some take writing classes, some have writing partners, or alpha readers, or beta readers.
An in-person writing group can be a regular, supportive, and social gathering. You can get feedback from multiple readers, people can also commiserate about their jobs, celebrate successes, and share baked goods. Because you'll be reading multiple writers' work, usually only small chunks of your work will be discussed (though some groups operate in different ways).
A partner can be more flexible. You can meet whenever you want, and read as much as you have time for. You can encourage each other. However, you'll only receive feedback from one person. People refer to "alpha readers" as partners who read drafts in progress, "beta readers" provide feedback on finished or revised drafts.
Online groups probably fall somewhere in between. Work can be posted on blogs regularly to be shared, so feedback can be more flexible. However, usually there'll be less socializing and friendship, and you'll have to provide your own baked goods.
Nothing stops a writer from joining all sorts of different types of groups and partnerships. I certainly have.
Writers seek out different types of feedback. For example, Stephen King drafts alone, then uses beta readers to get feedback on his completed drafts. Other writers like to get feedback on each chapter or scene they write before they move on. Many writers probably fall somewhere in between. This past summer, I blogged about my ideal critique partner here. In my Chicago writing group, we share everything from poems, to blog posts, to picture books, to short stories, to novel excerpts. Depending on when our meeting falls, I may not be ready to share something from my novel, but I always share something. Our group is so supportive and enthusiastic, that it helps my spirit just as much as my writing. Plus, it encourages all of us to produce something, even if it's only a single a haiku, every month. I've also used individuals from the group as beta readers.
Of course, who is in a critique group is also important. You want writers who are as dedicated as you, who have similar goals to you (writing for fun vs. publication). You may want to consider finding writers in the same genre. I've heard other bloggers recommend that if you want to be published, you should join a critique group with others who are already published. But how many published writers are desperately seeking feedback from non-published writers?
Rather than knocking on Stephen King's door, I think there are other, better ways to form writing groups.
Classes: Writing classes are a great opportunity to meet others who take their writing seriously. Many libraries, community ed programs, and universities offer them.
Friends and work colleagues: My Chicago writing group formed because a woman I worked with knew a few other writers and suggested we all get together.
Online: Members of Verla Kay's Blueboard often post to ask for critiques or partners. Becoming involved with that amazing forum will also put you in contact with numerous writers, and you might find something evolves more organically, too.
Many other online forums provide similar services. Nathan Bransford has a forum with a board solely devoted to finding critique partners (I believe Maggie Stiefvater set up something similar, but the link I have seems to be broken. Anyone know?). Casey at Literary Rambles often posts want ads for writers looking for critique partners or groups. She also suggests writers use their own blogs to advertise that they're looking for someone. Just yesterday I saw that Adventures in Children's Publishing was helping organize alpha and beta readers for writers.
It's kind of like online dating, no? Honestly, I'd rather have my friend introduce me to just the right person. But for those who are still looking, there are a lot of opportunities out there.
Phew! I hope that answers your question, Wilson!
Are there other questions about critique groups or partners? Anything I forgot? Any other tips on finding the perfect feedback?