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Iron Sharpening Iron, Day Two

Why have a critique partner?

DEB:

• At the point when we most need to be objective, we are too close to our own story to read it as an unbiased reader, let alone evaluate it critically. Tammy is able to offer perspective that I’ve potentially lost, being so close to my own work. We’re able to see not only technical glitches in each other’s work but also story strengths and weaknesses, and ways to potentially deepen the layers of the story and characters.

• We bring only one opinion or viewpoint to the reading of our own work—and it’s obviously very biased. A critique partner can view our work from a different point of view since they’ve likely had a different upbringing, different life experiences, and therefore have a much different “filter” through which to read your work. (For example, I live in a small town and Tammy lives in a larger city. Amazing what different perspectives that affords us!)

• Since Tammy isn’t so close to my story, she often comes up with ideas or plot directions I never would have dreamed of.

• Almost any two people working together bring two sets of strengths to the table, and offset each other’s weaknesses.

• It makes a solitary occupation so much more fun! Working with Tammy provides that human touch a career in writing is often missing. With the wonder of technology, we’re only a click or call away.

• When one of us is down, we can build each other up! Tammy and I are tough on each other, but we also try to be each other’s biggest fan.

• It’s so much easier to see “mistakes/room for growth” in someone else’s writing. We learn from critiquing each other’s manuscripts, and then can apply those principles to our own writing.

• Brainstorming! With today’s technology, critique partners don’t have to be next-door neighbors or even live in the same state. With applications such as SKYPE (skype.com) and iChat (for Macs), you can “video brainstorm” any time, day or night. And it’s free! Plus, if you use something like Google Talk, you’ll have a “text copy” of all those ideas for future reference.

When is a critique group more appropriate than a one-on-one critique partner? <>

DEB:

• When you’re first starting out and still learning the basics of writing, it’s good to have input from multiple writers because, chances are, you have a lot of basics you’re still needing to learn. Having multiple critique partners can also help you find your voice as a writer. When Tammy was in a critique group early on, she would watch for similarities in critiques from her writing partners. Would three of the four writers make the same comment about a certain character or plot point? Or would it only be one writer making that particular comment? That helped her to develop confidence in her own voice while still weighing the counsel of others.

• When you desire quick response/input from more than one person about a particular aspect of your work. Life sometimes gets in the way of responding as quickly to tasks as we’d like. Same for writing partners, especially if you’re both on deadlines. The chances of having someone available to read your work in a timely manner are much greater if you’re part of a group.

• When you haven’t found that right critique partner yet (and you’re in God’s “waiting room”). Often, your critique group is where you’ll find a critique partner and—once the time is right, or the group grows to the point of needing to form another branch—you can “offshoot” from the original group and form that more personal critique relationship.

• So that you can learn how to critique. There are many styles of critiquing. Again, it’s not just about pointing out what’s wrong, but about “equipping” another writer to be the best writer possible. Writers often have their specific areas of expertise as well—be it a strength in characterization, dialogue, plot, creating believable story worlds—so being part of a group can expose you to a wider variety of writer strengths, and therefore, opportunities to learn.

Pointers for finding a critique partner:

TAMMY & DEB:

• First and foremost, pray about who God might pair you with.

• Seek someone whose strengths make up for your weaknesses, and vice versa.

• Ask God to keep your heart teachable.

• Attend local or national conferences.

• Be open to critiquing others’ work. (You never know what will come from that offer to help out.)

Whether you’re already in a writing critique group or a writing critique one-on-one partnership, or you’re still looking for that right group or person, the goal is to keep improving your writing skills and honing your craft. None of us ever ceases needing to learn, needing to grow. We want to give God our best, and as King David said in II Samuel 24:24, “I will not offer as a sacrifice to the Lord my God a burnt offering [or in our case, our writing] that costs me nothing.”

So be willing to pay the price, hone your craft, and give God your best. And keep your eyes open to the possibility of a critique partner to share the “cost” along the way.

Tamera Alexander is the best-selling author of Rekindled, Revealed and Remembered, the critically acclaimed Fountain Creek Chronicles historical series with Bethany House Publishers. Tamera’s deeply drawn characters, thought-provoking plots, and poignant prose have earned her devoted readers—and multiple industry awards. Her newest novel, Within My Heart, releases in September.

DEBORAH RANEY is at work on her nineteenth novel. Her books have won the RITA Award, HOLT Medallion, National Readers’ Choice Award, Silver Angel, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. Her first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the highly acclaimed World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her newest series, the Hanover Falls Novels, is from Howard/Simon & Schuster. She and her husband, Ken Raney, have four children and enjoy small- town life in Kansas.

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