Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Critique partners: yes or no?

I’ve just been out for lunch with my critique partner, to celebrate a positive response from the very first agent she contacted about her manuscript (and yes, she did follow all the advice I gave in my last post!)  

The whole notion of a critique partner was new to me until a few years ago, when I started hearing other HM&B authors talking about them on the loops.  I remember thinking to myself that I would never let anyone read a draft of mine. Even my plotting team don’t get to read the stories until they’re published.

Isn’t there some saying about how it’s better not to know exactly how sausages and the law are made?  I feel the same about writing a novel.  One of my recurring nightmares is being knocked over by a bus while a story is still at draft stage.  I can see that the quality of my writing would probably be the least of my executors’ concerns, but I have made them promise to destroy any manuscript pages hanging around in my study without reading in that eventuality. I can’t bear the idea of anyone not realising just what a change there is between shitty first draft, shitty second draft and the draft that I eventually submit, and have no intention of the last response to any words of mine being ‘oh, dear, oh, dear …!’

Anyway, I told myself I would rather stick pins in my eyes than let a fellow writer read my stuff before my editor, but it just so happened that someone I met at a conference came out of the closet about the book she was writing just as I was embarking on my ‘time slip’, and I was so far out of my comfort zone that none of my usual hang ups applied. 

We’ve been meeting for lunch every couple of months or so ever since, and I have to say it’s been much more useful than I’d imagined - once I’d got over all the apologising and self-justification and defensive explanations about how ‘it’s just a draft, honestly’, of course.   It’s been fascinating to see her story taking shape and I am quite unjustifiably proud that she’s had such a good response already. 

It’s not easy giving or getting feedback.  There’s something very exposing about letting someone read what you’ve written before polishing, and I can’t imagine doing it with anyone I didn’t respect and trust. I still write my romances on my own (apart from brainstorming with my plotting team, of course!) but I’ve found it really helpful to have constructive criticism while trying to break into a new genre.

How do all you other writers out there feel about critique partners? 


  1. Hi Jessica,

    I absolutely love a person/friend who recently critiqued my story. In my eyes, my work was complete, yet when she made her suggestions, I could see what else I could do to make my story stronger.

    As you probably know, in my country, I don't have a writing group so I didn't have a CP.

    So this is a friend I met online, and she's marvelous for taking time out from her busy schedule and looking over my work.

  2. Oh good I'm glad I'm not the only one who found it terrifying =)

  3. I can see that having an online critique partner might be easier in some ways, Nas. There's a bit of distance to make pertinent comments, although I guess you miss the face-to-face connection. Isn't the internet brilliant for making real connections with people in other parts of the world?

    Yes, terrifying, Lacey, but as Nas says, it's almost impossible to read your own work with any perspective, so it is worth it!

  4. Hi Jessica, I'm part of an online writing community for expat writers and we provide feedback to each other on a regular basis. My writing has improved so much through this process as it's impossible to critique your own work effectively. We are constructively critical so that we can improve the story and therefore improve our chances of publication and many of our members have had success with stories that we have read and critiqued and using a writer (rather than a relative) is better because they understand how precious your writing is!

  5. Sounds like you've got a really good community going there, Louise. Yes, I forgot to say, never ask someone you love to read your writing! They'll either be too kind, because they don't want to hurt your feelings, or tell you what they really think, which always ends in tears!