Friday, November 4, 2011

The Benefits of Partnerships

I joined my first critique group a number of years ago as a fairly new writer. There were six or seven other writers, all much more seasoned than I was, and several who were published. I was scared to death to read my work out loud to the group. But by the 2nd or 3rd meeting, they had bolstered my confidence and convinced me I might actually have some talent. I stayed with The Write Bunch for three years, and learned some invaluable things about writing. I'm still in touch with the woman who led the group. She acted like a proud mama when I gave her copies of my published novels three years ago.

I wasn't in another critique group for 18 years or so. That's when I joined a group headed by my agent, who lived just an hour away from me. Her group was composed of writers who were very good at their craft, and I very much enjoyed the time I was with them. I was always reminded of the Scripture, "iron sharpens iron" whenever we met.

Here are a couple of important suggestions to help you manage a successful critique group. When you start a group, be sure to establish the rules and stick to them. Whether you submit your work to each other in advance, or read aloud at each meeting, it's important that everyone participates. It's equally important that everyone has equal opportunity to be critiqued. That means it's important to keep the group to a manageable number. I recommend no more than eight, and even that number would necessitate a lengthy meeting. So make sure the membership is commensurate to the time you are able to allot to the meeting.

While I benefitted from the groups I participated in, what has been most beneficial to me as a writer has been having Katy Popa as a critique partner for the past seven years. We met at a writers' conference and were drawn to each other initially by our work. Our writing styles were similar, as was our level of ability. That united us professionally, but getting to know each other and discovering the similarities we share on many levels united us personally. I haven't written anything these past seven years that Katy hasn't critiqued, and vice versa. We are critique partners in the truest sense, but more than that, we are close, close friends. And it all came about because of our writing.

The same type of relationship -- professional and personal -- is now enjoyed by the six of us who co-write this blog. We're separated by states, and even countries, but that hasn't hampered the deep friendship that's developed amongst us. We're all available as critique partners to one another; and we have the privilege of being "first readers" of each other's work. Believe me, that is a thrill. We're also prayer partners, and we continually encourage one another.

You may find yourself without a writing friend who lives next door, down the street, or across town, but that should never keep you from finding a kindred soul who shares your passion, who writes at a similar level as you, and who desires the kind of relationship I've described in this post. If you are able to, attend a writers' conference, if for no other reason than to put yourself in a position to find a critique partner/writing friend. It's worth the price of the conference. If you're unable to do that, or don't want to wait for the next conference, reach out to someone in the Novel Matters writing community, or another writing blog you may follow. We've seen relationships build between our followers and it delights us to no end. Take a risk and take advantage of this community. It's a win/win for everyone.

BK, I understand your reticence to join or create an online critique group, but a critique partner is a bit different. A one-on-one partnership is harder to flake on, and easier to maintain.

Megan, I hear your frustration. I truly hope you find a writing partner within this community like I found with Katy.

Please share your experiences with either a critique group or a critique partner. How have you benefitted? What has worked, and what hasn't?


BK said...

I like the crit partner idea and that will probably be my next step if I do anything online again. Indeed a one on one crit partnership would seem to work best online.

Question: for those of you who do this, do you find you gravitate toward someone who writes the same genre or different?

Bonnie Grove said...

I don't write genre fiction, and I don't read much genre fiction either, so I would be useless as a crit partner to, say, a romance writer. I haven't read a romance novel since I was 11 years old.

When I hand my ms to a trusted friend, assuredly, she writes non-genre. All of us who blog on Novel Matters fall into that juice category, as do my other trusted readers. It makes sense to me to have people reading my work who understand that complexities and expectations of non-genre novels. If I wrote genre, I think I would want someone who deeply understood the genre to be my crit partner.

That is my experience--I'm not in a crit group, and I'm not convinced being in one is the right move for me.

However, I think as long as you are partnered with someone you admire as a writer, and who respects you and your work, you're good regardless.

Anonymous said...

BK, I completely agree with Bonnie's answer to your question. I believe partnering with someone who writes similar to what you write is more beneficial to both of you.

Marcia said...

As I shared about a month or so ago, my prayers were finally answered. In our town of 2500, someone posted an ad in the weekly newspaper for anyone interested in a writer's critique group. Although I was scared out of my wits, I responded to the e-mail address.

Low and behold if I didn't know the girl who posted the ad! She had dated my son about four or five years ago, while she was going to college studying screen-writing.

She is presently writing a screen play, and the other member of the group, (who turned out to be my parents' neighbor)is writing a novel using his experiences as a member of the coast guard on the Big Lakes.

So far I've been the only one who's been able to submit things regularly, on a weekly basis, but Amber especially has given me some very helpful insight.

We're all writing different genres, but critique on the basics of good writing, with a strong flavor of Larry Brooks' Story Engineering , since it's his advice I'm using to re-work my manuscript.

I'm also open to enter into a critique partnership with anyone on NovelMatters who's read Larry Brooks (see and wants to work from that angle.

Every writer has a story inside them, they just need a little (or a lot of) help in birthing it. Allowing others to help me and helping others has been like coming out from a cave into the sunshine, even though the bright light has taken some adjustment for my tender eyes. ;-)

Bonnie Grove said...

Marcia, Novelists and screenwriters should partner as often as possible in my estimation. They do each other good, and because screenwriters are always focused on story structure, they can point out weak spots that a novelist might think is great writing.

I haven't read Larry Brooks, but I'm willing to look into his stuff. I have to say, that I'm sold on John Truby's approach to screenwriting and story building, but he's not the only one with great ideas. His Anatomy of Story is complex, but worth the effort it takes.

Thanks for the update, and for the tips!

Susie Finkbeiner said...

I have found the difficulty of crossing genre in a crit group. I, for one, don't understand the fantasy/spec/sci-fi genre. So, I give them bad advice. And I say things like "this isn't really believable". Of course not. It's a fairy falling in love with a dragon. Throw in an amish person and I'm completely lost!

Megan Sayer said...

I have been so incredibly blessed with the friends I have made through this community - Novel Matters truly has been God's gift to my life. To date every one of my writer-friends I met here, and I've learned so much from and been encouraged so much by all of them!
Best moment of all though must have been the other day, just after me commenting on how hard it had been finding a writer's group, when I got a message from my favourite Michiganer, Miss Susie Fink, saying "I think we should do a once-a-month Skype critique". OH YES PLEASE!!!!!!!! Oh God is good. And faithful.

One thing I've learned through sharing with other writers is how to appreciate the good in genres I don't normally read, and how to think and critique for an audience other than myself. I have rather sharp teeth too (when I was in my 20s I struggled to find anyone to go to the movies with because I was always such a harsh critic) and I'm bossy. So it's been an awesome learning curve a) being aware of the fragility of other people's babies and b) recognising their inherent beauty and not try to impose on them my own thoughts and standards.

Megan Sayer said...

Sharon the other thing I wanted to say about this was it was all because of another post of yours sometime last year that I was brave enough to reach out to people here (one of those posts when you feel the Holy Spirit standing over your shoulder whispering "are you getting this yet?")You just never know what results from blog posts sometimes...and to anyone else who hasn't done it it!!!
So thanks...again. You guys rock!

Anonymous said...

Megan, thank you so much for your comment. We're blessed to have you as a friend of this blog. I'm really thrilled about you and Susie Skyping!! How cool is that?!?

Susie Finkbeiner said...

I'm excited to Skype with Megs, too! If nothing else, just to hear her beautiful accent! Or am I the one with an accent?

Megan Sayer said...

Beautiful accent? Hehe.
Australian is the English language spoken without the necessary use of consonants : ) That's why it's also known as Strine.