I’ve been seeing a fair bit of talk around the Twitter-sphere lately about finding critique partners (or CPs) and it got me thinking about sharing my thoughts and experience. Now, I don’t think there’s any tried and true method that will guarantee you a CP, and it’s very likely you will jump around for a while before finding the person/people that you really trust with your work, but I think there are some basic tenants that could help.
Before I jump right into it though, I think there’s some groundwork we should cover.
What exactly is a critique partner?
As a disclaimer: I don’t think everyone has exactly the same definition of critique partner, and you might not agree with mine. That’s okay! But this brings up an important point—you’ll want to communicate with a potential CP about what your expectations are. It will likely lead to confusion, misunderstanding, and heartache if you’re hoping to find someone who will read every piece of writing you ever pen in your entire life, and your potential CP thinks you’re doing a beta swap. If you’re looking for an involved CP, be clear about this. You’re hoping to find someone to regularly share your work with.
With that out of the way—what is a CP?
A critique partner is someone who is regularly involved in the process of critiquing your early writing. This could be workshopping ideas, reading early chapters, alpha reading, beta reading, looking at your query/synopsis, rereading passages you’re having trouble with, brainstorming when you’re stuck, etc. Regardless what exactly their role looks like from project to project a CP is typically more involved than a beta reader is going to be. It’s not just one set of eyes on one draft one time, the end.
While a CP doesn’t have to read everything you ever write (as that might be a bit of an unrealistic expectation), they tend to be familiar with your style, voice, areas of strength/weakness, etc. As a CP will likely be reading for you often, you’re going to want to find someone who a) reads in your genre(s), b) understands your vision for your work, and c) has a communication/feedback style that aligns with your interests.
Pretty large order! No wonder it’s so difficult to find a quality critique partner!
It’s a two-way street
In my experience, having a critique partner goes both ways. They read for you, and you read for them (this doesn’t necessarily have to take the form of a swap as you may not always be at the same stage in your writing journey, but it can if that’s what works for you). It’s a symbiotic relationship that mutually benefits both parties. I find this is the most effective way to have a flourishing critique partner relationship. Neither party feels as though they’re being taken advantage of, you become very familiar with each other’s work, and you can celebrate and grow together. It’s a partnership, not a job, and it should feel that way.
While you may be able to find a critique partner who is willing to read for you without reciprocation, you have to be open to the possibility that this will be a harder role to fill, and a potentially less satisfying relationship than you would find if you’re reading for each other.
NOTE: This is NOT the same as finding a beta reader. While it’s usually polite to offer to beta read for someone who is going to be reading for you, there’s not that same expectation of reciprocity. I have read for a number of people in the writing community without them reading for me, and vice-versa.
Which brings me to my next point:
Be willing to read, and read a lot
When I first started making solid connections with people in the writing community, it was because I started beta reading. And beta reading. And beta reading. I would have six or more projects on the go sometimes (which, let’s be serious, wasn’t healthy, and I limit myself to two now). Sometimes people I read for would read for me back—but not always, and that was okay.
I just wanted to get connected; help where I could; and learn more about craft, critique, different writing styles, etc. And I did that! I think beta reading is one of the single most useful tools for improving your craft as you get to see what kinds of things you think work and don’t work, you have to reflect on and articulate WHY these things work or don’t work for you, and you see different approaches to doing things. But I digress—another blog post topic for another time.
Being willing to beta read for people allowed me to make connections, which allowed me to discover who was a good fit for me, and who wasn’t.
The process of finding a CP requires a lot of trial and error and it’s probably not going to be as easy as asking for a CP and finding one. You might have to slog through manuscripts you do not feel like reading; you might have to give up an evening you could be playing Among Us (we’re all obsessed with this game right, it’s not just me?) to offer feedback on someone else’s work instead; you might have to read for people who aren’t able/willing to read for you.
None of it is going to be a waste, I promise, but it might feel like it sometimes. If you read a manuscript you really didn’t enjoy, you’re going to know that person probably won’t be a good critique partner as you’re not going to want to read for them therefore eliminating any chance of that reciprocal relationship. If you do a beta swap with someone and you do not understand their feedback on your work, or they want you to rewrite your manuscript to fit a different vision, then you know they probably aren’t going to be a good CP for you as they don’t understand what you’re going for. Scratching people OFF the list can be just as important as putting people ON the list of potential critique partners.
It’s not personal
I could use the dating analogy here about finding the right person, but I’m not going to, because as much as finding a good CP is interpersonal, it’s also professional and you can’t take it as a reflection of what people think of you.
If you’re a very blunt, direct person who calls it like it is (and subsequently offers feedback in a similar fashion), I might respect you and your opinions very much, but I probably won’t be able to be your CP. I know that if someone straight up tells me a scene I’ve written is awful (even if it is) I’m going to cocoon in a blanket burrito and pretend I’m not crying. That’s not personal. That’s a professional choice because I know blunt feedback doesn’t mesh well with my rampaging imposter syndrome so I won’t want to enter into a reciprocal feedback relationship with someone who offers that kind of feedback. Or, if you write high fantasy, I’m probably not going to be a good CP for YOU because I cannot keep intense worldbuilding straight in my head so I don’t actually read a lot of high fantasy. I’m not going to be able to offer you relevant, helpful feedback, industry insights, comp titles, etc., if that’s your genre of expertise.
If you ask someone to be your CP and they say no, or if you start a CP relationship with someone and it ends up petering out or doesn’t work for either of you, it’s not a reflection of you. Interests, feedback style, genre preferences just might not align. That’s to be expected in such a subjective industry with such a large, diverse, community.
It’s going to take time
I mean, this piece is pretty straightforward. Know that the process is going to take some time. It probably took me about a year and a half of being in the Twitter writing community before I connected with an initial CP—it might take you longer, it might take you less time, depending what kind of CP relationship you’re looking for, what kind of feedback you prefer to give/receive, what genre(s) you write in, etc.
I did a lot of beta reading in that time, found a lot of people who weren’t quite the right fit, and tried to initiate CP relationships that failed. Ultimately, it was when I wasn’t actively trying to find a CP that I connected with one. We’d read for each other a couple of times, liked each other’s writing, we understood the vision the other person was going for and offered feedback to support that, our critique styles aligned, we read/wrote in similar genres (or at least, genres familiar to the other person). I don’t even think we officially asked each other to be a CP, there was just this unspoken agreement that we would be willing to read, workshop, reread, and be involved if the other person needed this. This was borne out of a mutual relationship of trust and understanding that we wouldn’t have found if we hadn’t been willing to read, connect, and support each other.
It’s definitely easier said than done, but try to be as positive as you can throughout the process. It’s natural to get discouraged and feel crappy about yourself, your writing, the process of finding a CP (because, let’s face it, this is a tough industry to be in, and who of us doesn’t feel like an imposter sometimes). Let yourself feel those emotions—but maybe that’s not the time to be trying to find a CP.
Whether we intend it to or not, our attitude can bleed into our writing, our feedback, and our relationships, and it’s hard to support and uplift someone who doesn’t seem to want to be supported and uplifted. Take the time you need to wallow, talk to someone you trust, drink some water, work through your feelings, and then get back on the horse (so to speak). Come back to the CP search with a positive attitude, knowing you’re doing everything you can to accomplish your dream. How many people can say they’re doing that?
This is definitely something that requires some flexibility. You may have a very specific idea of a CP relationship you want, and that’s fine—go for it, be patient, and try to find it! But you might also have to adjust some of your expectations and/or be willing to roll with the punches.
I do currently have more than one CP, but they’re not all what I might have initially considered my “ideal” CP relationship. And you know what? I’m much happier with things the way they are now. While I do have some relatively involved CPs, I have a few informal CPs as well where our relationship tends to be more beta-like in nature. We ask each other if the other is free, we read a clean manuscript and offer feedback, then we do it again the next time there’s a new project. I still consider this a CP relationship because we’re relatively familiar with each other’s work by this point, but there’s not a lot of workshopping, there’s not a lot of consistency, and there’s very little expectation for the other to read if they’re busy or don’t want to.
Maybe this isn’t the kind of CP relationship you’re looking for, but being willing to change your expectations to meet someone else where they’re at can create a space where you have more than one CP. This can be incredibly beneficial. I have CPs who write and read in different genres, with different experiences, who are available at different times, with different insights into the same project. This offers me a greater perspective and greater range of feedback on my work, which has been wildly helpful on numerous occasions.
It’s worth it
Well, Ashley, you’re saying to yourself. That’s a lot of information and sounds like a lot of work without any guarantee of finding a CP.
Yeah, you’re right. It’s tough, and some days it’s going to feel like it’s never going to happen. But I truly believe it’s worth it if you’re willing to continue to put yourself out there. Finding someone you trust, who understands what you’re doing, and can help you reach your vision with your projects in a way that makes sense to you, was a game changer for me. But it was an investment of time, it took a lot of trial and error, and sometimes I felt rejected or hurt when it didn’t seem people wanted to be critique partners with me. But learning the things I’ve outlined in this blog post—to be flexible, to be positive, that it’s not personal, that it takes time—helped me get through the searching process.
Now, this method might not work for everyone. It’s my experience, which, as with everything else in this industry, is subjective. You have to do what works for you and if, at the end of the day, you’re just happy beta reading for people and having them beta read for you, do that! Just like writing advice, there’s no cookie cutter method (as much as people will try to tell you there is).
But if this resonates with you, then I’m thrilled, and I’ll have my fingers crossed that you’ll find your CP soon!