How to Be an Extraordinary Critique Partner
Working with critique partners may require some vulnerability from each writer involved, but the benefits of such a relationship are numerous.
In addition to getting feedback that can make your work the best it can be, learning how to give constructive feedback to others can also help you develop your own revision skills. Here are 8 tips that will help you become a critique partner that your fellow writers will love hearing from.
Make sure to set expectations from the beginning of what you’re looking for from a partner and what they’re looking for as well. What type of feedback are you hoping to receive? Are you more focused on developmental edits, or line edits? It’s okay to ask for specific feedback in a certain area or even to provide a list of questions you hope your critique partners will answer for you.
Also, give your partner or group the context of your submission. Are you sending in the first pages of your new book? The climax from the third book in a series? A writing prompt you recently completed?
Knowing where your submission fits in the bigger picture, and what type of edits you’re looking for will help your partner(s) deliver great feedback that’ll help you move forward.
Set deadlines (and meet them!)
As part of setting those expectations, be sure to set deadlines for both writing and reading. Have a clear date of when you’ll have pages ready to read. And pick a clear date of when you’ll have read your partner's pages and formulated your feedback. Everyone has unexpected circumstances from time to time, so give yourself plenty of time to read and make notes, and even reread if you want to be thorough.
Once these deadlines are set, honor them. Do what you need to do to come through for your partners. This might mean getting up a little early, staying up a little later, making sure to block time on your calendar, or skipping TV for a night. Your consistency in the relationship will drive consistency in your partners as well.
Find some common ground
Critique partner relationships work best if you’re all standing on the same foundation. This could be a particular plotting method (like the Hero’s Journey or Save the Cat!) or a particular character development methodology, worldbuilding technique, or craft book. These techniques and methods often come with their own terminology, which can sometimes sound like a whole other language.
For example, if you’re a follower of Save the Cat! you’ll probably know what it means if you’re told “your Fun & Games is an upward path, but your Midpoint is a false defeat.” If you’re not a Save the Cat! fan, that feedback probably sounds like a foreign language.
So ask your critique partner(s) what techniques, craft books, and methods they follow and read up on them. Being able to speak the same language can really help you communicate the nuances of the story and writing with your partners.
Read as much as you can in your genre
One thing that separates good critique partners from great ones is the ability to give examples. Referencing an excellent example of how another author solved an issue you see in your partner's manuscript is a fantastic way to help your partner recognize and resolve the issue. To find good examples, read all the award winners and bestsellers in your genre you can get your hands on. Study the techniques— how do your favorite authors create their characters, build their worlds, and plot their stories? This can inspire your own work, and also serve as a touchstone when you critique your partner's work.
Take notes on each book you read. Note down what they did well, what you liked, and what you disliked. You can then use these notes for comparison later when offering feedback.
Keep it positive
You don’t have to lie to a partner if their book just isn’t your cup of tea. In fact, letting them know that you aren’t the target audience is helpful. But make sure to be tactful in your critique— always try to find a few things you liked about the other writer's pages.
You can also try the "compliment sandwich" technique when offering criticism. “Your main character is so realistic and well-rounded. [A compliment!] It feels like your best friend character could use a little more depth in comparison. I had a lot of questions about why they made those choices. [Critique] Their dynamic is really fun, though, and their conversations made me laugh. [Compliment again!]”
Remember, your partner worked hard to create this world. While it may need to improve, it will be better for your relationship if those improvements can be delivered with grace. Think of it as a writing exercise: what’s the nicest way you can express these thoughts?
Give specific feedback
Be as specific as you can when giving feedback. For example, saying, “Sometimes the plot dragged,” is less helpful than saying, “I found myself skimming through the description at the beginning of page 6. It might be a little heavy on the exposition there.”
Make an effort for the feedback to be constructive. Instead of, “This was boring,” let them know why you felt the section was slow. Instead of, “I didn’t like this part” let them know why it rubbed you the wrong way.
You don’t have to rewrite anything for them (in fact, please don’t!), but try to give specific notes that could be helpful for them to make their work better. And try to use the tips mentioned above, like using language of the techniques, methods, or craft books you have in common, and giving examples from something you've read recently.
Accept feedback with grace
Remember, your critique partner is trying to help. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re doing the best they can to provide their feedback, and that they’re genuinely trying to help you to the best of their abilities.
If you find yourself feeling defensive when receiving feedback, don't jump in with responses right away. Do your best to just listen and take notes on your partner's comments. Revisit the feedback in a few minutes, hours, or even days later. You may find value in the critique that you weren't able to pick up on when first hearing it.
Here's another technique you can use, regardless of what you think about your partner's critique: Do a little thought experiment and assume the feedback is correct. How could you use it? What could you change? Use this prompt as a springboard for your creativity. While you might fundamentally disagree with the notes, viewing your work through the lens of someone who didn't write it can help you unlock new ways to improve.
Look back every now and then
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, forget where you started, and lose track of how far you’ve come. Take a pause every now and then and spend a few minutes reflecting on how you and your partners have improved over time.
Go back and read your first submission— do you notice any improvement? Do the same for your critique partners. Tell them about the improvements you’ve noticed and celebrate with them!
Looking for your own critique partner?
Having a critique partner or group to share struggles and celebrate improvement with can be an amazing, fruitful, and rewarding experience.
If you’d like to find a critique partner or group, check out the Writing Mastery Community, a thriving, supportive community of writers from around the world who are all looking to improve their skills and achieve their writing goals.