How to be an excellent critique partner

If you want to keep improving your writing, you will want to foster relationships with people who give you the best feedback. But in order to get you need to give. A great critique partner is not going to continue to spend their precious writing time scouring over your chapter if you are not offering quality feedback in return.

This can take some practice but there are some ground rules.

 

Identify strengths! Whether it’s the idea, descriptive abilities, strong characters, use of language this should be the first thing you look for when you critique another writer’s work. If the writing is generally strong, tell them! If the writing is still in need of a lot of work, it’s even more important to tell them where their strengths lie so that they know where they are safe once editing begins, and to encourage them to keep going.

Consider the genre. Romance is not the same as Thriller. Pulp Horror is not the same as Literature. It may not be your preferred genre but that doesn’t mean you can’t critique it. If you really don’t understand the genre, you can fall back on the basics. Clean writing, strong characters, solid plot, grammar, descriptions, ect. If you don’t feel qualified to comment on the effectiveness of a certain troupe in the genre, then don’t. Insisting that a romance is “frivolous” or a fantasy is “ridiculous” because they are not what you would choose to read for pleasure is not helpful. It’s really kinda douchey.

Don’t pander. No matter how “nice” you are or how much you want the other writer to like you, you’re not help to anyone if you just feed their ego. You may be blown away by their work. That’s awesome. Tell them that! But if you see flaws in their work, it is your job to point them out. That is why they gave you their manuscript.

Be professional. Writing is work. Providing feedback is work. Yes it is personal work but the critique you are offering should not be taken personally. It is to help them improve their work, so keeping your language professional will help keep the line intact, prove you are taking their efforts seriously and allow them to consider your efforts to be serious as well. We are writers, people. We know the difference between “Your character is such a bitch” and “I’m concerned this passage could alienate your character from readers”.

Consider the writer’s skill. Determine where they are in their writing and critique accordingly. If someone is a new writer, their work should not be judged on the same scale as a published literature professor and writer of twenty years.  New writers will become non-writers if you rip their work apart the first them they submit. Give them time to adjust to peer critiques. Participating in critiquing the work of more experienced writers will do more for them then your harsh review of their own work and even without you nit picking every single thing that is wrong with their writing, you will start to see their work rising to the standard around them. On the other hand, a more experienced writer can not only handle more extensive criticism, they are likely seeking it out specifically as they are already aware of where their strength lie (although you shouldn’t skip that party).

CONSTRUCTIVE Criticism. Please! Telling a writer you don’t like it, It’s weak writing, The story makes no sense, it’s boring, it’s too sad, you just can’t get into it… it’s not helpful. All it does is make the writer feel kinda crappy about themselves, about you and undermine any helpful advice you may have in the future. Why do you feel the writing can be improved? What are you struggling with understanding? How is the story dragging? Offer suggestions, not problems. Otherwise you’re useless. And also kinda douchey again.

Never ever ever ever assume you know the writer’s story better than them. I shouldn’t even have to mention this. But i do. I see if all the time, particularly with chapter by chapter submissions. You can say “I can’t see how you are going to pull this together” or “I’m really surprised you made this choice”. Maybe that will be helpful, but it’s even more likely that the writer is trying to keep you on your feet. Telling them that they are writing their story wrong, that their character shouldn’t be this way, that the twist doesn’t go with what you thought would happen is silly until you’ve seen how everything turns out. It’s not your story. Don’t try to hijack it.

Work to your own strengths. If you are a grammar queen, make those grammar notes! If you are more of a big picture person, comment on how the work is coming together. You are best equipped to help others in the areas you excel in. You should never ignore problems that you notice, but don’t kill yourself trying to correct punctuation if you know you can be most effective helping them to develop their characters.

What are some things you have found most helpful in critique partners? What are some things that you have learned to avoid?

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You’re always moving forward, unless you give up

There is nothing quick about being a writer. Writing a book takes a long time. Editing a book can be just as long or longer. Publishing takes forever. Making money… I think you get the point.

In this very long process, it is easy to get discouraged. In fact, it’s pretty much standard. When you finish writing a novel and realize how much work it needs, when you spend years editing and it’s still not right, when you can’t find an agent, a publisher, when your self published work languishes, literally at every step you are going to be discouraged because it feels like after all this work and all this time you are stagnant.

This is only emphasized by the fast furious flurries of activity, writing and editing binges, critiques, contracts, launch parties, that seem to consume everything while they are going on.

With these big exciting milestones, it’s not always easy to see the little steps in between. They are frequently eclipsed by the waiting game that plays such a prevalent role in the path to becoming published author. But if you find yourself discouraged while you wait for these big things, it’s time to scale back and look at all the little things that you have been ignoring, because that is where the real progress is made. Even if it doesn’t seem like progress.

Because another reason we get discouraged is that these little steps can feel like they’re going backwards. A bad critique, a failure to impress with your novel, a query rejection.

But they are all pushing you toward what you want, as long as you keep going. Each failure is an experience to learn.

If you join a new crit group that tears apart a manuscript that your last crit group was praising, it’s not a back slide. You just leveled up. You’re going to learn things you never would have learned in the last group.

Your query’s been rejected again? Now you know that query isn’t working for you. Write a new one!

A reader doesn’t like your book? Find out why and determine if it’s something you can and want to fix. Maybe they are seeing something you missed. Maybe it’s not for them.

There are also little steps you take every day, cutting a few words, writing a new chapter, reading articles on writing, signing up for classes and seminars that are pretty mundane but all provide the potential of that final piece to make your work click into place.

And don’t forget the way you help other writers. Reading and critiquing the work of other authors can not only give them the benefit of your knowledge but also help you to zero in on your own strengths and flaws. Supporting other writers gives you a community to support you, people to bounce ideas off of and to commiserate with.

The milestones are huge. They tend to overshadow our little steps, but they cannot be accomplished without them.

You are not stuck, no matter how long it’s been since your last milestone. You are never stuck unless you throw in the towel forever.

 

Keep writing, friends.

 

The overused phrase

We all have one and it’s practically invisible. To you.

But your readers will start to notice it and notice it and notice it, and soon it will start to overshadow your entire story.

Yesterday I came across a tweet on my feed. An otherwise awesome book used the same description so many times it was distracting her. Soon other people were chiming in, recalling their own experiences with this situation and I remembered my own.

I was reading a series by an author I had been reading for years, but this time I kept getting held up. Over and over characters were described as having a “shock of red/black/white/blue hair”. Now there is nothing wrong with this description. Once. Maybe even twice.

But over the course of this series it came up again and again and again and it started to become bigger than the story itself. Eventually, I was rolling my eyes so hard that I just put down the book and didn’t pick it up again. (To be fair there were some other frustrating issues, but this is the only one I remember, years later).

The thing is, just about every writer I know has this problem, including myself. And we are practically unaware of it.

A few years ago, when “The Silent Apocalypse” was up on a critique forum, a writer pointed out that I wrote “certainly” about twelve times in one chapter. He certainly noticed it. It certainly was distracting him. When I did a search of the manuscript, I found that I certainly used the word a lot and it certainly didn’t match the voice of every POV character using it.

But I never would have noticed if someone hadn’t pointed it out to me.

While we are busy killing darlings and cutting adverbs, we writers may not even consider looking for phrases we use too much. This is why it’s crucial to have betas, peer critiques and editors go over your work. And if they’re reading chapters separately, make sure you ask them to keep an eye out for this specific issue.

If you suspect you may have an overused phrase, search it out through the find function in word.

It certainly will go a long way in cleaning up your work.

 

Obviously, it’s editing time

I have written and deleted about twenty posts here over the last couple months. As I have mentioned before, it seems my writing seems to work in cycles. I have some great stuff started, but I’m not getting very far on it.

I have been trying not to fight the tide and right now, the tide is low. I’ve been reading a lot and, man, that has been fun, but my fingers are itchy to work. I have a fresh first draft that has been going through my crit group and collecting some excellent suggestions.

There are many ways to work as a writer. Don’t assume that because you are not creating new content that you are stagnant. If you are anything like me, each phase has a season and if you don’t observe those seasons, they may wait around for you.

For me, it’s editing time. This summer was busy and I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked. Now my time is freeing up and ideas for improvement are spinning around in my brain.

Good luck to you in all your writing endeavors, and I hope once I give into my writing nature, I will have some more original content for you here.

The laundry list description

LCW Allingham

We want to establish how our characters (especially our MC) look from the beginning. It feels important to us because we have a clear view of them that we want to give our readers. Unfortunately, most people stumble into a bad habit early on in their writing of making a list and it sticks out like a sore thumb.

The laundry list.

Maryanne stopped to check her reflection as she headed out the door. Glossy chestnut hair, dark almond shaped eyes with a fringe of black lashes, plump rose bud lips, on top of a lean frame with no hips. Shrugging at the image, she grabbed her keys and ran out the door.

Oh please do not.

This does several things that damages your story.

  1. It cuts away from whatever action you start with.
  2. it is disrupts the voice.
  3. It is unrealistic.

When was the last time you looked in…

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