Friday, July 13, 2012

Taking the Heat: Critique Partners by Olivia Miles

I'll admit it: learning to take criticism and use it to my advantage has been a challenge for me. It took a while for me to separate myself from my work but once I did, my mind opened up, and my writing improved. I went from wringing my hands at the thought of someone saying anything other than, “Flawless. Nothing to change!” to embracing ideas for improvement. It’s easy as writers to get completely immersed in our own work, but we are ultimately putting this work out there for the public. We are writing for the readers, not just for ourselves, and it’s therefore crucial to get an objective opinion.

I consider critique partners and beta readers an invaluable resource and there are a few tricks I have learned when it comes to critiquing someone's work and having mine critiqued in return: 

 It helps to like the other person’s writing. It seems obvious, but if you’re going to build a relationship that involves time, trust, and encouragement, you have to be a fan. 
 Make sure you have the time. Reading someone's work takes time, and time is a precious commodity when you are juggling a day job/kids, personal life, and writing your own books! Be committed. A strong partnership works both ways. 

Take the good with the bad and know the difference. As hard as it is to hear that a part of your manuscript might not be cutting it, remember that this is only one person’s opinion. At the end of the day, it’s still your book and if you really feel strongly about something, you don't have to change it.

 Know what you want out of the relationship and make it clear upfront. Are there specific parts of your story that are worrisome to you? Certain scenes that you’re not quite sure about? Ask. Your critique partner is there to give an opinion and answer those questions. 

 Be constructive. When you’re the one doing the critique, don’t just point out something that doesn’t work for you. Suggest some other ideas!

 Take advantage but don’t take it personally. This is a tricky one, because it is so easy to become attached to your conflict, a certain scene, or a specific character. You put a lot of time and creative energy into your effort, after all. You chose to make it the way it is; you think it’s great. Hearing someone point out things that they don’t find quite so great can really sting. Rise above it. Instead of taking it to heart, stop and think objectively. Take a step back from your manuscript and decide if they have a point. Give their opinion a chance. You asked for it.

 Be positive. I love to know what does work in my manuscript. Be sure to highlight all the parts that really grab your attention, or a specific scene or piece of dialogue you connect with. In many ways, this type of feedback is just as important as mentioning elements that need fine tuning. Lead by example.  

There’s no doubt about it: it’s scary to let someone else read your work. However, the more you do it, the easier it gets. I have a few people that read my work, but that isn’t the same as having another writer read your work. I mean, my mother has read my work, but do you think I have ever given her the entire manuscript? Heck to the no! I’ve had to scratch out entire pages of scenes that might make her pass out, scream, or never meet my eye again. My husband also attempted to read some of my work - once. He read the entire first chapter of the book that ultimately sold, as I forced him into it right before I entered the Happy Holidays contest. He really didn’t know what to say…he’d never read something like this before!

Aside from having someone to bounce ideas around with, I view a critique partner as a support system. This person has taken the time to read your work, they want you to succeed, and they have a vested interest in your project. When an editor comes back with revisions, there’s something nice about being able to talk to someone who just “gets it” because they know your story, they understand your characters, and they know what inspired you to write the book in the first place. And hopefully, they love it just as much as you do. A critique partner, after all, is your cheerleader.

And on that note, stay tuned for Part Two of my Taking the Heat series when I tackle...revisions!


  1. Great post! And wonderful advice. I love my CP's. They're great!!! I usually get to a place in my editing where I can't see the forest for the trees and they push me along, highlighting the places I should go deeper or places I can cut because I usually write long.

    In the beginning criticism was hard to take but you're right, the more you get the easier it is to take. The key being hooking up with the right CP's that click with you.

    I think now when I see a lot track changes coming back at me I cringe not because they didn't like it but rather because I know I have my work cut out for me. I want each story to be the best it can be. And you know by the end, all the sweat/blood/tears was worth it. The story is richer and worth the investment. *G*

    Looking forward to your post on revisions!

  2. Couldn't agree more! Trust is important. It's hard to hear that a manuscript isn't perfect, but nothing is, and if someone tells me that something doesn't work, I'm more likely to believe them when they say that I'm doing something well.

    I have a great CP, of course. ;-)

  3. Thanks, Jennifer! I couldn't agree more: better to know that something doesn't work and have a chance to make it better!

  4. Great point, Natalie. If someone can point out areas for improvement, then you know the compliments are sincere, too. And you do have a pretty great CP...:-P

  5. Great post, Olivia! I totally agree and think that in the beginning, criticism is the hardest to take. I think a lot of it has to do with self-confidence and knowing that even though a scene or a plot point might not work, it's not a reflection of you or your abilities as a writer...and I think taking criticism from a CP would be way easier than a big old R from an editor, any day! :-)

  6. So true, Victoria! It's much better to hear feedback when there is still time for improvement...not when it is too late! But also interesting to think that the editor might have a different opinion than a CP!