Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Experience as a Critique Partner

QOTD: For the first person to come to mind, think about why you appreciate and are grateful for that person. Feel free to share! 

Quick Announcement: I will be starting my own editing service (completely voluntary on my part, so don't worry it's free) post-Christmas. Come back soon for more updates! 

I used to think that I didn't need anybody. At least when it came to writing. I have always been either too insecure, too stubborn or too fearful to let others critique or even look at my work. I just wanted to do my own thing. I think all of us as writers tend to have this mindset in some way...writing is, after all, as much of a service to ourselves as it is to our readers. But lately I've come to realize that when we decide to put our fears aside and allow yourself to be exposed to feedback, we can learn so much from others and improve ourselves as writers and as people. And when it comes down to it, nobody should have to go through the writing process (specifically revision) alone. 

In one of my earlier articles, What's Your Take on Creative Writing Classes?, I stated that a writer does not need to take classes or a teacher's approval to write well. I still believe this. But...I have a confession to make. I enrolled in ENGL 130, our "Intro to Fiction" class at school, for next semester. I know, I am such a hypocrite. But at least I can admit to changing my perspective a little and stay flexible, right? I think I'm a little too proud for my own good, and getting my writing critiqued by a bunch of stranger-acquaintances will definitely tear those sturdy walls down. I guess the Biebs had it right. Never say never. 

You must be wondering why I have changed my mind so quickly. Not too long ago, I decided to share my writing for the first time with a group of close friends. We'd all agreed to "show and tell" something important to us, and one of my favorite pieces of work was what I'd chosen. I did not know what their reactions would be, but I tried not to wonder to much. 

On the day it was my turn to share, I read my piece out loud. To my surprise, my oratory was met with tears, astonishment and praise. I thought, is this really happening to me? I sighed with relief, and realized that, more than anything else, my fear of rejection and failure was what had kept me from keeping much of my writing hidden. 

Soon after, one of those close friends (let's call him "Frank") approached me, saying he'd love to see more of my work. Turns out, he writes too. We met up on the quad the next day and swapped poetry and stories. Ever since then, we've been meeting together once a week to share our writing and our opinions. Without even realizing it, Frank and I became critique partners. 


This is the quad! It's so peaceful and comfortable, but there are always people around and there is inspiration everywhere. Perfect place to write, don't you think?

And Frank is a fantastic writer. Fantastic Frank (has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?) inspires me every day to be a better writer with his honesty, unique writing style and ability to get an overall feel of a piece of work. I can also safely say that our friendship has become a lot deeper, more interesting and complex since we developed a relationship as critique partners. 

Deciding to share my writing with one of my dear friends has been one of the best choices I've made as a writer so far. My relationship with the students in my future creative writing class may not be as successful or enjoyable, but I understand how important it is to at least get a second opinion and make sure I am on the right track. You don't always have to go with any changes they suggest, but you can consider them and see if they make sense or not. 

I made a short list of tips on being a critique partner, AKA "Fantastic Frank." Hmm, I think this term is growing on me.


How To Be A "Fantastic Frank"

1) Choosing a critique partner can be difficult, as writers have different preferences. I love that my critique partner also happens to be one of my awesome friends whom I know well and can trust. Others may prefer a classmate or acquaintance with a formal/professional relationship; that way, conflict of interest doesn't get in the way of feedback honesty. Keep this in mind as you think about what kind of relationship you want to have with your critique partner.

2) No matter who your critique partner is, there must be a balancing dynamic between you two. Feedback must be given both ways, and there needs to be mutual respect, honesty and support. Feelings of competition should be kept at a minimum. 

3) Be open-minded, be curious, be understanding of criticism. Don't be afraid to ask your partner questions about their work and/or their comments on yours to see what angle your partner is coming from. That's what your partner is there for. No matter what, though, don't let your writing style or your personality as a writer be affected. Don't change anything that you don't think will benefit your work or isn't 100% what you want.

4) For me, one of the hardest things at least for me as a writer is to write in a way that initiates the right reaction or gets a point across; and I never know if it does or if my reader feels something totally different than what I had intended. My favorite part of having a critique partner is seeing his perspective and reaction as a reader of my writing. 

5) As critique partners, you should be there for each other during much of the writing process - especially during revision and completion! After you've copy-edited, written those second, third and fourth drafts and submitted your work for publishing, celebrate together with a drink. There's nobody else who understands what that final submission means to you than your critique partner. 

6) What have you learned from participating in critique groups and critique partnerships? Share in comments below! 

There are only 5 days left until Christmas! What are your plans for the holidays? I will be in Florida for 10 days starting on Thursday, but I plan to update TRA as often as I can with photos of my adventures at Disney World! 

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6 comments:

Donna Hole said...

My writing has vastly improved from being member of an in person (ftf) writers group and several on-line crit partners.

I've worked with a number of authors over the last couple years, and read so many revisions I think I know the story as well as they :) But offering feedback also helps me become a better writer because I "see" what I'm saying to them and also think some of that logic applies to my own writing. Talking out difficult passages/transitions sure helps keep perspective :)

I'm glad you changed your mind about critique groups/partners and writing classes. I agree that you don't have to use all the feedback, but it is rewarding to receive (and give) feedback.

.......dhole

Jemi Fraser said...

Finding a crit buddy is so important! I lucked into 2 online buddies who are pure gold! Sounds like you and Frank have the same kind of magic going :)

And the ability to change your mind based on evidence is a sign of an open mind!

Rachna Chhabria said...

My crit partner (though she does not write MG fiction) gave me a wonderful feedback regarding my MS. She really brought an amazing perspective to my writing. For my earlier books, I had no crit partners, I was a Lone Ranger who did not believe in CP's.

Now, I have two amazing ones, both in New Zealand and I am eager to send them my next lot of books.

I like the sound of Frank. He seems to be a wonderful CP and a friend rolled into one package.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in advance.

Audrey Allure said...

These are definitely great tips -- the feedback is what helps me the most!

Oh to Be a Muse said...

feedback can be hard to deal with because a lot of people view it as criticism, especially if it's not constructive. i think you'd be great at editing!

Happy Holidays! <3

magpiewrites said...

I've done a few things in the last year or so that have really improved my writing (including blogging and following other writers' blogs) but the two that have done the most are 1) starting a writing group and 2) going to a writing conference. The writing group I formed from people who met up during NaNoWriMo. From that group I got two awesome crit partners - if one is great, two is even better, particularly when they disagree on something. And at the conference I met people at different stages of writing careers, and made connections with people who would become beta readers for me. It was an investment that paid out ten fold.

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