It is a truth universally acknowledged that writers need writing and critique partners. However, the true crux of the matter is not simply finding reliable partners, but those who will offer useful feedback and advice.
Everyone who reads our writing has something potentially valuable to offer, but there are some whose comments help to build up our writing and writing abilities. These people can be rare gems! But there are certain signs to look for in someone that we plan on asking his or her opinion about our writing.
First, and foremost, a writing and critique partner should be someone who respects us and whom we respect. What does this mean?
Respecting our writing and critique partners means that we value what insights he or she may provide. Further, when we respect someone, it should mean that they are trustworthy and honest, two important factors in a partner. When we approach them, it is with the sense that their comments will be to the benefit of our writing. Even if they offer uncomfortable criticism, we will take their suggestions into account.
Since the majority of writing, from college essays to comic book scripts (but not grocery lists), is deeply personal, trustworthiness in a writing and critique partner is key. Just as allowing a drug addict to babysit our child would fill us with dread, handing over our writing to people we do not trust—whether it’s not to steal or ridicule our ideas—is nerve-wracking. And rightly so, for not only do we have to worry about theft or mockery, but we cannot be sure that someone we do not trust will offer valid, honest feedback.
Honest feedback is a key component to any writing and critique partnership. While it’s nice to hear praise, it is just as important to hear constructive criticism. Without well-rounded feedback, we fail to see the areas where our writing needs to grow or the areas where we really were brilliant writers. Indeed, at any stage in our development as writers—whether as seasoned authors or as grad students—honest criticism is needed.
For example, acclaimed young adult fantasy author Tamora Pierce wrote a short story for one of the Firebirds anthologies about a young girl who falls in with a gang of sociopaths. In her discussion of the story that followed, she reveals that in its first incarnation, the main character was a schizophrenic homeless woman. After her husband read that draft, he told her it was incomprehensible. Trusting that if he did not understand it there was something wrong with the story, she rewrote it and it was accepted and published.
Finally, the last two characteristics of a writing and critique partner are that they should be responsible and reliable. When trusting someone with our writing, we need to be sure that they will, in fact, read our writing (not just click “like!”). Further, that they will read it in a timely manner. Without these assurances, we may be waiting for feedback that will never come or will come too late.
Our writing and critique partners do not need to be other writers. They should be readers—you wouldn’t want to ask someone who never picks up a book to proofread your writing. Besides that, they simply need to be people who will offer trustworthy, honest feedback in a responsible, timely manner. And we should be the same sort of readers when called on by our writing and critique partners.