Feedback is crucial to any serious writer’s progress. It’s nice to have someone read your work and tell you it’s awesome, but that’s not really why feedback is important. In fact, if somebody’s looking at your first draft and telling you it’s awesome, odds are they’re just trying to flatter you.
The reason why feedback is so important to a writer’s progress is because we’re often too close to our writing to see what’s wrong with it. We love those pretty sentences that just don’t belong. We’re so deeply in love with our world that we forget our readers don’t know anything about it. We already know the story, so we tend to skim instead of slowing down to find the spelling mistakes. A second pair of eyes helps us catch those mistakes.
The people who give feedback are generally known as critique partners or beta readers. They usually work on a friendly exchange basis–they read something of yours, you read something of theirs. The best critiquer is another writer with different strengths than yours. For example, my newest critique partner is someone who has never completed a novel, but who’s written lots of short fiction. This is mutually beneficial because she can help me tighten my short stories and I can help her stay motivated through longer projects.
There are lots of places where you can find feedback on the web. Most writing communities have a section designed for giving and receiving feedback. Not all of them are active or helpful, but there are some gems. There are also websites with a structured critique function, where you earn points or credits by critiquing others’ works and then use those credits to put your own work up for critique. One that I’ve found very helpful is Critique Circle. With their queue system, you often have to wait three or four weeks before your story goes up for critique, but I’ve gotten many useful critiques and read some amazing stories on critique circle.
Some critique groups are run by email loops. These include the Internet Writing Workshop, which has several lists for different kinds of writing, and Critters. I’ve used both Critters and the Novels-L list of the Inernet Writing Workshop. Critters is pretty demanding and I found it too hectic to keep up with. Novels-L sends me a lot of email, but they don’t expect me to critique very many of the chapters that pass through my inbox.
Critique groups can be wonderful things, but sometimes you want a long term partner. It’s nice to develop a relationship with another writer, to have someone to bounce ideas off of and someone who will always read your work. These relationships can be hard to find, and I’ve started many only to have them fizzle away into nothing. Most writing forums have a board dedicated to finding beta readers, but it can be difficult. It’s quite likely that you’ll go through several critique partners before you find somebody you can work with in the long term.
I found my latest critique partner using a site called Ladies Who Critique. The site opened last year and it’s helped many people find their critique partners. So far the critique partner I found on Ladies Who Critique is a great match. It’s a really interesting website designed specifically to match up writers with the critique partners they need. I don’t know of any other sites like Ladies Who Critique, but if you find one, I’d love to know about it.
Next week I’m going to talk about etiquette when giving and receiving critiques.
Do you have a critique partner?