Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The perfect critique-partner

I'm not a good critic of my own writing, and therefore I've long been obsessed with and grateful for critique partners and writing groups. I work with a brilliant group of teachers/writers in Chicago (I couldn't handle leaving the group, so I now join them via Skype. Yes, that's how brilliant they are). I've worked with a writing group in Bristol as well and a number of individuals.

This past year the number of writers I know has multiplied exponentially, and I've been exposed to a lot of different people and styles of critiques. Some are grammar freaks. Some are plot nuts. Some are big picture people. Some notice staircases that lead to no where and cars parked on the wrong side of the street. I love them all.

Really. I've been told I take criticism remarkably well, but the truth of the matter is, it's so important to my writing. Even when they're WRONG (and sometimes they are =) ) I don't think I've ever lashed out at someone critiquing my writing.

But of course, some critiques are more useful than others.

Once my program is over, I won't have regular workshop sessions, I won't be surrounded by brilliant writers (though perhaps I can convince some of them to keep working with me). I've been thinking a lot about what I want in a reader.

The more critical the better. I mean, I like being told my writing is lovely and you want to date my character, but if my plot has a major hole, I really need to know.

Also, I've found the more critical the reader, the better their praise. One of my BEST critiquers, my tutor Julia, is also one of my harshest. But she puts check marks next to lines she likes. And one check mark from Julia is worth five compliments from anyone else. I trust Julia, and I know that if she likes something, it's working. Sometimes she does double check marks and I'm over the moon. I got a triple one once. I may frame it.

Different readers are better at noticing different things. For me personally, as someone who struggles with plot, the best readers are those who ask lots of questions. Question after question. Why is your character doing x when she wants y? Why does your character like this character? Why does this character lower his gun?

One of my best readers asked me that last question yesterday afternoon. I know the answer, but clearly it wasn't reflected in the text. Back to work!

What qualities do you most desire in a reader? Have you found your perfect critique partner/group?


  1. Great post, Anne. No, I haven't found my perfect crit partner. I've done both groups and partners, and so far both haven't been what I'm looking for. I don't want a schmoozy group where people are more interested in chatting. Nor do I want lots of 'that's nice' comments. (You usually find both of these in the same group.)

    Yes, the more critical, the better. And you make a good point about questions. I love them. They help me think about my work, more so than comments do.

  2. Thanks, Andrea! It's really hard to find a perfect crit partner, isn't it? And hard to leave groups that aren't working for you when people have been perfectly nice (in fact, too nice!).

    I get so jealous when people post about their PERFECT crit partner, who understands their every thought and is brilliant. How do they find these people? What's worse is when they're married to them! Grrr. =)

  3. Along with email, Skype is one of the great leaps forward in human communication! My MacBook camera went out a few months ago; I'm having a Mac computer guru over Friday afternoon to help clean up the hard disk and get it working again. Then I'll be able to Skype again in time for Older Son going back to D.C.

  4. I don't know how anyone ever lived away from family and friends before without Skype! =)


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