by Tamera Alexander
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
Deborah Raney and I have been writing critique partners for more than ten years, ever since we met at the first ACFW conference. While not all critique partners become friends, friendship has been a natural outgrowth of our working relationship, and I’m so grateful.
Over the course of critiquing twenty-plus manuscripts between us, we’ve learned a lot about what to look for in a critique partner, what works, what doesn’t, how to handle conflict and competition, and how to “agree to disagree” with grace.
Here are a few quick things we’ve gleaned through our working partnership. (The entire list can be found in A Novel Idea by Tyndale Publishers.)
Why have a critique partner?
• A critique partner (CP) offers fresh perspective. We’re often too close to our own story to read it as an unbiased reader, let alone evaluate it critically. CPs can 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 biased. A CP can view our work from a different point of view since they’ve likely had a different upbringing and life experiences.
• Since a CP isn’t as close to your story as you are, they often come up with ideas or plot directions that you never would have dreamed of.
• Two people bring two sets of strengths to the table, and can offset each other’s weaknesses.
• When one of you is down, the other is there to build up! Deb and I are tough on each other, but we’re also huge fans of each other’s work.
• It’s much easier to see “mistakes/room for growth” in someone else’s writing. Deb and I learn from critiquing each other’s manuscripts, and then apply those principles to our own writing.
• Brainstorming! With SKYPE and FaceTime, CPs can “video brainstorm” any time, day or night.
Where and how do I find a critique partner?
• Connect with someone at a writer’s conference or local writers group. And remember, you don’t have to write in the same genre.
• One-on-one partnerships often develop naturally out of larger critique groups; so join a group with an eye to eventually working with one other
writer as a CP.
• Ask a well read non-writing friend to critique your manuscript. A non-writer who loves to read your genre can be an invaluable source for clarity and pacing of story.
• If feasible, consider paying a professional editor for a critique. Numerous well-qualified editors fill ACFW’s ranks, and the critique group opportunities are fabulous.
• Sign up for a paid critique at a conference you’re attending. Worth every penny!
• As you’re looking for a CP, become your own. Read books on self-editing, such as Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell (Writer’s Digest Books) and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King (HarperCollins).
• Pray about who God might pair you with.
• Seek someone whose strengths make up for your weaknesses, and vice versa.
• Remain teachable. That’s huge!
• Be open to critiquing others’ work. (You never know what will come from that offer to help out.)
Do you have a writing critique partner? Are you in a writing critique group? If yes, what has your experience been like?
Tamera Alexander is a USA Today bestselling novelist whose works have been awarded and nominated for numerous industry-leading honors, including the Christy Award, RITA Award, Carol Award, and Library Journal’s top distinction, among others. She and her husband live in Nashville near their two grown children, and with a little Silky Terrier named Jack.