If you want someone to critique your work, you need to be ready to return the favor. Being a good crit partner, however, is more than just being able to identify and point out mistakes. It’s an intimate writing relationship that should be handled like any other relationship, with kindness and honesty. Here are some tips to getting the most out of your critique experience.
1. Read the story, not just the words. She was skinny. Are your passive/telling warning bells going off? Are you just itching to rewrite that sentence? Before you do, what’s the context? If the main character looking at someone, it could be more descriptive. If this is dialogue, however, it might be appropriate. Note the context – not all to-be verbs are wrong, and sometimes passive works. Make sure you’re reading the story, not just the words.
2. It’s not that it’s wrong, but it makes you think. Every now and then my crit partner will write a paragraph in which every sentence starts with ‘she’. I’ll highlight them all to help her identify them. That does not mean, however, that she needs to change them all. I’m just helping her see something that stuck out to me. If something raises a question or makes you pause, point it out.
3. Don’t rewrite it, but offer suggestions. You’re not trying to correct mistakes – you’re trying to help your partner do it. I once read an entire paragraph of passive sentences. I offered suggestions for how to rewrite the first sentence, then left the rest for her. It’s not about showing off your skills – it’s about helping others hone theirs.
4. Think big. You’re looking at the big picture – theme, motivations, character arcs. If you’re reading chapter twelve, it’s okay to reference chapter six if something doesn’t feel right. You’re critiquing the whole novel, not just individual chapters.
5. Be honest, but kind. You’re not helping anyone if you’re not honest. At one point I was in a crit group with some newbies. The writing was rough. It felt awful to keep pointing out huge chunks of telling, but no one improves if you just keep patting each other on the back. Remember – red means love. If you’re not putting red on the page, you must not love your crit group.
6. Put on your big girl pants. Even the kindest honesty can hurt. Don’t take it personally. Your crit partner isn’t attacking YOU, she’s attacking weak writing and comma splices. A hacked up manuscript isn’t a reflection of your personality, your talent, or your story. It’s an attempt to make your novel better. Focus on that. If you have to cry, do it. Then wipe your nose, put on your big girl pants, and get back to work.
Have you worked with a crit group or partner before? If so, what was the most helpful advice/suggestion you received?