Every writer should have a critique partner or critique partners. But how do you know if your critique partner is a good fit? Additionally, how do you know that you're offering helpful advice yourself? In this article I will discuss what I believe makes a good critique partner, and likewise what I need to do to be an effective critique partner.
Does your critique partner need to write the same genre as you?
I know writers have mixed feelings on this, but I say no. I think it has more to do with style and voice than genre. However, while I wouldn't mind critiquing YA, NA or A, I would have a harder time with MG because I don't read enough MG to be effective. To be a good critique partner you need to know your limitations when you are exchanging manuscripts.
Here's my critique partner checklist:
A critique partner needs to like your style and voice. Clearly your style and voice won't change throughout your manuscript. A critique partner isn't there to change what makes you, you. They're there to ask questions, pick apart plot holes and offer edits. Maybe you write lyrically and maybe you don't. No matter how you write, you don't want to have a CP that's constantly telling you to reinvent your sentences. The voice and style stay so either a CP likes it or they don't and shouldn't be your CP. In the same regard, if you're reading a manuscript where you don't like the style or voice, move onto another CP because you won't be doing them any favors.
They need to actually critique. Raving about your work isn't helpful and neither is tearing it down without suggestions or explanations. A good critique partner won't constantly tell you to change something without explaining why or perhaps even offering a solution. A critique partner who constantly writes notes like "love this" and "this is great" isn't helping your manuscript. I think it's great to give overall praise on a chapter or make notes like "killer chapter ending," but you need to also be noting the parts that need improvement. Even the best manuscripts can be improved and can use suggestions.
They need to know their craft. I'm not looking for a critique partner who can tell me where every single comma goes or doesn't go, but they need to know their craft. It's always nice if they can catch grammar mistakes, suggest paragraph breaks, etc. Paying attention to plot is most important but CP's need to be able to tell you if a sentence is clunky too.
They need to be focused. You don't want to receive a rushed once-over of your manuscript, so don't fly by a manuscript when you are critiquing. Take your time and make sure you have the time and energy to devote to making the manuscript all it can be. Part of finding a good critique partner is being one.
Offer encouragement. Writers have so many ups and downs, and one of the major bonuses of having a CP is they are along for the ride with you. Lifting up your CP along the way is an important part of being a CP. It's a tough industry and we all need a little emotional boost now and again. That doesn't mean offering unwarranted praise, it's more about showing support and celebrating successes together.
Where to find critique partners:
Online writing groups such as Agent Query Connect and Absolute Write Water Cooler are places to find CP's. There are many online forums where you can meet writers and exchange manuscripts.
Writing organizations such as SCWBI, RWA, etc.
What are some qualities you look for in your CP's?