Writing can be a solitary process. In truth, I think a lot of art forms can be lonely endeavours. By nature, they require you to live inside your own head in order to create. This works well for most introverts, but at some point, even the strongest creators need feedback.
First we need to understand the difference between a critique and criticism, even though they derive from the same place.
I took two art subjects in high school—not something I would recommend for the faint-hearted—and it gave me a great respect for honest critique. Note, not criticism. A critique is very different in that it is meant to better the work instead of tearing it down. Also not to say the only purpose is to shower the creator with praise, because at the end of the day, that would be about as helpful as negative criticism.
Here is the Merriam Webster definition of critique:
“A careful judgement in which you give your opinion about the good and bad parts of something (such as a piece of writing or a work of art).”
Notice how it says a careful judgement? Not an insensitive remark. And, perhaps most important, your opinion. We’re all different, and we all see the world in a different light. We have diverse experiences and varying knowledge. All this translates to a subjective point of view. Last, it mentions the good and bad parts. I’ve seen this explained as a “compliment sandwich”, meaning the person offering the critique doesn’t throw offhand comments at you about how bad the work is, nor do they pepper you with an abundance of admiration. A good critique will highlight the good AND point out the weaker areas.
So back in those art classes, my teachers would encourage us to critique each other’s work. Sometimes it was difficult to stand there and have my peers judge my work and point out its flaws. And sometimes if filled me with pride when they gave out compliments. The most important, however, was that it made my art better. When you know where the flaws are, you can improve them.
This works in the literary world as well.
Critique partners are absolute jewels for writers, but often very tricky to find. There are all kinds of things to consider, like age categories and genres. Sometimes everything lines up on paper, but you just don’t connect on a personal level. I’ve had a couple different experiences, but each has taught me something. So where do you find these treasures? There are lots of options, but I recently found critique partners via Twitter, particularly during pitch contests.
I’m still very new to these contests and the odds of getting into things like Pitch Wars and the like, are very slim. There are just so many talented writers and very few spots open. The latest—and perhaps one of the most beneficial, in my opinion—is #RevPit, where writers are hoping to win five weeks of free editing. It’s a huge prize, but with each editor accepting one submission out of a possible hundred (plus), writers have a very small chance of making it all the way. But, while we wait to hear from the editors, writers meet other writers. Following hashtags like #ontheporch allows the solitary introverts to interact with like-minded people.
At the end of 2016, I had the pleasure of having the first chapter of my current WIP shredded by M.L. Keller AKA The Manuscript Shredder. It was so helpful to have an honest critique of my opening pages. But then M.L. Keller went one step further and created another great Twitter resource… #QuerySwap. The first event took place 1 January 2017—a very successful Twitter party. It is amazingly helpful to have a fresh set of eyes look at your query. This is particularly important because while your critique partners can help, they tend to know your story. With #QuerySwap, you get feedback from other writers who will be looking at JUST the query. The benefit is that they only know what you say in the mini-synopsis of your query. If it doesn’t make sense out of context, they will pick it up. If the stakes aren’t clear, they can point this out.
The second #QuerySwap Twitter party will be taking place 1 June 2017, and I can’t recommend it enough. And even if the pitch contests aren’t for you, following the feeds is a great way to meet other writers and potential critique partners. They are out there, waiting to connect with someone like-minded. You just need to find them.