Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Building, Creating, and Sustaining Ideal Critique Partner Relationships

 By Suzy Leopold

Successful critique groups support a writer's journey by helping writers shine and create polished stories.

Organizing a thriving critique group: 

  • Begins with the right group of people.
  • Includes writers who write in the same or similar genre
  • Is best with members who have a similar level of experience
  • Incorporates established expectations and guidelines
Writers can grow, learn, and develop the craft of writing by giving and receiving manuscript critiques.

Giving a critique is subjective. Some writers read for meaning while others focus on word choice and grammar. 

Ideas for giving a manuscript critique:

  • Always begin and end with positive comments.
  • Be aware of your own biases and preferences.
  • Read the manuscript aloud, then set it aside to think and ponder. Doing so creates a better evaluation.
  • Be helpful and supportive with concrete information and reasons for suggestions.
Receiving feedback for a manuscript critique can be overwhelming. It's natural to want to protect your writing. 

Ideas for receiving a manuscript critique:
  • Consider all comments by listening to or reading feedback with an open mind. 
  • Do not interrupt or respond in a defensive manner.
  • Ask clarifying questions to expand on the suggestions for a clearer understanding.
  • Set aside the manuscript to think and ponder then revisit it. This will give you a clearer vision for polishing to stay true to your voice and vision for the project.
Photo Credit: Good Story Company
Whether giving or receiving a manuscript critique, read the story aloud and spend time with the piece. 

The writer spent time creating a story. A thoughtful, trusted critique partner spends more than five or ten minutes giving helpful feedback and should offer suggestions for improvement without changing the voice or vision of the story. If you share similar thoughts about feedback from members of the group, share a new perspective without repeating, "I agree" or "ditto." Additionally, this is not the time to be harsh nor is it time to be a “cheerleader” for the project. 

If a critique group meets in person, send manuscripts in advance electronically to members. This allows for additional time with the project followed by a discussion when the writers gather together.

Always say thank you after receiving comments for a critique. Then after much thought carefully consider all feedback. Think about listing the comments and feedback into three columns—Yes, I need to revise and polish; Maybe, I need to consider a revision; No, the suggestion does not resonate with me.

I reached out to writers, authors, and creatives on Twitter. I received the following suggestions from the kidlit community.

Sharing Twelve Responses:
Please note: Each link will share a redirect notice. Click to be sent to the website.

Keep the group under 12 but over 5. That way nobody burns out & people can bow out when they’re too busy. A slack channel works best for us since we’re all over geographically. There are no set meetings & no due dates unless someone’s on deadline. Google docs are your friends.

--Jess Hernandez, Author First Day of Unicorn School

Jess Hernandez Writes

Be consistent in participation and curious about things to learn from each other.

--Shaunda Wenger, Author Chicken Frank, Dinosaur

S. K. Wenger

  1. Regardless of how you feel about the suggestions, always say THANK YOU.
  2. You want a critique partner who sees things differently than you do. Otherwise, you might as well just edit yourself.
  3. Remember, it's your book, you decide, keep your voice.

--C. Louise Donovan, Writer

When it’s your turn to receive critique, answer questions only. Wait until everyone is thru before asking *your* Qs. No interjections, no “what I was trying for was…(if you have to say that, it didn’t come across, and needs rework). They are there to help! Don’t get defensive.

Just bc someone suggested the change doesn’t mean you have to implement it. It’s YOUR work, you make the call.

But if you hear the same feedback three times, pls consider it, in some form.

--Bitsy Kemper, Author & Speaker

Bitsy Kemper Worth Reading

For some, flexibility is the key. Make sure everyone in the group agrees upon a general structure. Some groups have deadlines, that doesn’t work for me. In my groups, we have an understanding that we make requests when we are in need, and we always answer those who need help.

--Lydia Lukidis, Author and Freelance Journalist

Lydia Lukidis

Critique with kindness. The writer created something and was brave in sharing. Receive critiques with kindness. The feedback is meant to help (and you can disregard what doesn’t settle well with you).

--Monica Acker, Author Brave Like Mom

Monica Acker

Photo by S. Leopold 
It’s important to be honest and upfront about what you want to get out of the CG process. Big-picture guidance? Line editing? Discuss in advance how detailed you want your feedback to be so it’s an equitable experience.

--Louise M. Aamodt, Author A Forest Begins Anew, 2025

Building: start by swapping manuscripts. I was on 12 X 12 Challenge, but you can also go to writers Facebook page such as kidlit411 swap. If someone is a good fit for you (writing and critiquing) start a group of two. Set the rules and keep on swapping and finding good candidates.

Sustain: follow the rules set up by your group. Decide how frequently you will submit and how long you have to critique. Is it all by email or video call? Important: critique all manuscripts even if you didn’t submit anything. A lot of groups die because the critiquers can’t find time to critique. If you want to stay in this group, unless you have major emergency (let them know) keep up with the critique. We count on our partners.

--Ana Siqueira, Author

Ana The Teacher and the Writer

When giving a critique, be kind. Offer helpful suggestions, but always remember whose story this is. Don't try to rewrite it or make changes that don't adhere to the author's vision. Tell what you like, what you feel works for the story. If you are confused, say so. If the storyline confuses you, it would probably also confuse a child. When you find a problem with a line or paragraph, tell the author why.

Sandwich your critique by first offering a compliment, then tell what you feel needs changed or what doesn't seem to work with the story, and lastly, tell what you liked about the story. 

When reading a manuscript, listen to the voice. Does it ring true?  Envision the story through the character's POV. Does the author stick to the point of view of his/her character(s)?

--Debra Daugherty, Author  

Debra's Blog

Ten Reasons Why Writing Groups Flounder, Fizzle, or Fail:

  1. Members use the group for the wrong reason. 
  2. Critiques are too harsh. 
  3. Critiques are too positive.
  4. Members drop out before the group gels.
  5. There are varying levels of commitment to writing.
  6. Attendance is sporadic.
  7. Sessions focus on content, not writing.
  8. There is poor personal chemistry between members.
  9. Members don't appreciate the different styles and abilities of the group.
  10. There is jealousy and competitiveness.

--Kathy Briccetti, Writer, Blogger

Literary Mama

Be respectful, offer helpful suggestions without trying to rewrite or change someone's story.

--Kelly Swemba, Author

My World of Books, Band-Aids and Beauty

A tip that works for my group - we do a cold read and don't send out the ms ahead of time so the writer gets an idea how an agent/editor would approach it when they receive via their email.

And I suggest if the group is PB only, it's very helpful to have at least one illustrator in the group.

--Kathy Halsey, Children’s Writer, Educator, Speaker

I've found that there's no substitute for time! The trust that builds over time is really important in the crit partner relationship, so stick with it!

And communicate with your crit partners about what you're looking for on a particular piece: e.g. "This is rough but should I pursue the idea?" or " I think this is pretty polished, is it ready to send to an agent?" or "I know something isn't working, can you help me identify what it is?"

--Chris Mihaly, Children’s Author

Christy Mihaly

Photo by S. Leopold

For additional resources:

1. "The 4 Hidden Dangers of Writing Groups"

By Jennie Nash

Jane Friedman Blog, 2016 

2. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Written by Ed Catmull

Random House, 2014

3. The Writing Group Book: Creating and Sustaining a Successful Writing Group

Edited by Lisa Rosenthal

Chicago Review Press, 2003

Please share your tips and suggestions for successful and sustaining writing partners/groups in the comments. What have you found that works well for you and your critique partners/group?

Happy reading, writing, and creating.

No comments:

Post a Comment