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!