Plays With Words: The Critique

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Courtesy of Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

There comes a time in every author’s revision process when it’s necessary to stop hiding the story from the world and let someone else look at it. Even the most careful writers need to let others look at their work, and not just for the obvious reason that the whole point of writing novels is for people to ultimately read them. A new novel—or short story or poem or novella or anything written, really—needs to be reviewed critically for grammar, syntax, pacing, character development, plot cohesion, and myriad other elements that can get easily overlooked by the author.

It’s far better to ask for feedback from peers than presuming agents and editors would accept your manuscript as-is. And it’s far better to get edit notes from fellow writers who understand the craft than friends and family who may not be completely objective.

But how, when writing is a largely solitary endeavor, do you find people to critique your work? How do you know the people reading your book will give you honest feedback and not just tell you they love it because they’re afraid of hurting your feelings? How can you ensure the notes you get are useful and will help you improve your manuscript and grow as a writer?

If you worked on a novel for NaNoWriMo (like I did) and went to some of the events, you might have met one or two fellow participants whose interests or writing goals were similar to yours. These relationships are invaluable as you grow a local network of writer-friends who can encourage you to keep writing, reassure you when you get rejection letters, and celebrate with you when offers appear in your In Box.

Perhaps your NaNoWriMo region didn’t have events at times or places that were convenient to you, so you didn’t meet any other writers in person. That’s what the internet is for. The NaNoWriMo forums are still active, and you can always start a thread announcing your search for one. Or you can turn to social media. I found my Alpha Readers (what I call people who offered to—and did—read my manuscript multiple times after countless revisions) on Twitter when I tweeted, “Would anyone be interested in critiquing a YA Contemporary retelling of Snow White? Offering virtual cupcakes.” Yes, it really is that simple.

But if you’d like to vet potential readers before letting anyone see your work, there are a couple of sites that are dedicated to helping people find critique partners, or CPs. My favorite of these is How About We CP, started and moderated by literary agent Jessica Sinsheimer of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. You can scroll through the profiles of readers looking to have their work critiqued and contact them directly (e-mail addresses are only shown with permission), but it’s best to submit your own profile, too, so that prospective CPs know what kind of feedback you would give and want to receive in return.

The most important thing about finding a critique partner is remembering that it is, above all, a partnership. That means a willingness to read your CP’s work at least as many times as you expect her to read yours. That means offering the same level of feedback in others’ work as you want to see in yours. That means reading and responding at least as quickly as you would like others to respond to you.

It may take time to find your ideal CP. (I like to think of it as dating in the writer’s world.) But when you find a critique partner who understands and accepts your feedback and whose notes are honest, tactful, and—most importantly—helpful, you’ll find you’ve probably made a friend for life.

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About Author

E.M. Caines

E.M. Caines writes as Ella Martin and is the author of Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up?.

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