A Conversation between Critique Partners: Trusting Your Own Work

So this isn’t really a conversation post this time–more like me adding onto Sarah’s last post. Mostly because she touched on something I feel very strongly about:

The idea that having a critique partner somehow means you don’t trust your own writing.

Just as Sarah said in her post: that’s not true. In fact, I’m gonna go ahead and (excuse my language) call bullshit on anyone who says something like that.

Because it is just so, so, SO wrong. Having a critique partner is a sure sign that you absolutely trust your writing. In fact, it means you trust it enough to think it’s actually shareable. It means you believe in yourself enough to want to improve as a storyteller. It means you know your manuscript is not the best yet, but that you’re willing to make it better.

And above all, it means you trust your critique partner’s writing. You trust your CP and believe in him/her so fully you are actually willing to use your valuable time to read their work and offer feedback.

More than anything else, that giving is what makes a critique partnership strong. It can’t all be take (and should you ever find your CP only takes-takes-takes, then it’s time to move on [Sarah: I owe you, so I’m just waiting for you to send me something that isn’t already in spotless condition and actually needs critiquing]). Not only should you trust yourself enough to share YOUR unpolished, unperfected writing, but you must trust in your CP enough to take their own unpolished, unperfected writing.

It’s a careful balance, critique partners. It’s a relationship that grows as your writing skill improves. Gosh, when I think about some of the stuff I let my CPs read a few years back, I cringe. And I bet they do the same. We weren’t at the writing level we’re at now; we grew together.

But even though I wasn’t the best I could be then (and I am certainly not the best I can be now; I’m always working at it), I trusted my writing. I believed in it, and I knew that I was strong enough to take a bit of criticism—and that I would only become stronger from each comment, each track-change, and each plot-hole-uncovered.

Actually, a lot of pursuits or hobbies or skills are honed by trusting yourself and trusting someone else. Back when I used to do karate, my sensei would pair the class up during drills. Sometimes he would put me with a higher belt, but more often than not, he would pair me with someone of a similar skill level. As a purple belt, I’d go with a green belt, a brown belt, or another purple. Then, during the drills, I would push myself like mad.

Example: We had this AWFUL drill called “zombie-keep-away” that required you to use all the power in your front thrust kick to keep away the “zombie”…who was really just your partner holding a giant pad. Because my partner would always be pushing me (quite literally), I would max out my effort–no holding back. And then when it was my turn to hold the pad, I wouldn’t go easy either. Me and my partner would grow stronger together; our skills would get honed together; and we trusted each other to not only help all the way to the end of the drill, but to also push all the way to the end.

You can’t improve if you aren’t pushed to your limits. And just as my thigh muscles would always SCREAM at me after a particularly rough round of zombie-keep-away, I was stronger by the time next week’s drill rolled around.

It’s the same with critique partners. Our feelings ALWAYS sting in the face of criticism–no matter how long you’ve been doing this or how close you are with your CP. But with time, it’ll sting less. It’ll become more of a “huh, I guess she’s right. I’d better redo that.” Plus, the more you critique, the better you get at spotting your OWN mistakes. I have learned more about writing from my critique work than I have from any workshop, text book, lecture, or convention combined. It’s just like martial arts: you can get the gist from a book or kata, but zombie-keep-away will really test how strong your front thrust kicks are. 😉

So the next time you hear some a$$hole say, “I don’t believe in critique partners. It’s a sign you don’t trust your own writing,” you can give them a nice front kick in the stomach and count that as one zombie kept away.1

  1. You probably shouldn’t do that, actually. I think that could potentially get you arrested. But you can flick them an ever-so-polite bird instead. 😉
     

24 Responses to A Conversation between Critique Partners: Trusting Your Own Work

  1. Lauren May 20 2013 at 7:18 am #

    Yes! Totally agree! My critique partner keeps me sane and is not afraid to be like, “Lauren, you can do better than this…” I need that!

    • Susan Dennard
      Susan Dennard May 20 2013 at 11:14 am #

      I totally need it to! My CPs call me on so many scenes where I took the “easy” way out rather than really amping up conflict for my characters. I would be an awful writer if not for them. 🙂

  2. Stela Brinzeanu May 20 2013 at 8:46 am #

    Couldn’t agree more. Thank you for taking the time to make it so eloquent and convincing!

    • Susan Dennard
      Susan Dennard May 20 2013 at 11:15 am #

      You’re welcome!! I’m so glad you agree. 🙂

  3. Heather Villa May 20 2013 at 10:47 am #

    Hello, Susan,

    I couldn’t imagine keeping my manuscript all to myself. My “critic” readers are honest. They push me. Hard! After all, I hope that my story appeals to more people than myself.

    Thanks for this post!

    Best,
    Heather Villa

    • Susan Dennard
      Susan Dennard May 20 2013 at 11:15 am #

      Exactly! Writing is for ourselves, revising is for our readers–so we NEED readers to let us know what they think as we revise. 😀

  4. Amelia Loken May 20 2013 at 11:13 am #

    Absolutely! I’m benefiting from online CPs who call me on stuff alllllll the time. And I trust my fledgling little crit group here in my town will soon get to that point. We all write different genre, but we have our own strengths.
    “Describe that fight scene more,” I say.
    “You really need to check your grammar on this section,” says the other gal.
    “The romance scene needs a little more kick. Can you send in some drunk knights the hero can beat up before he kisses her???” says the lone guy in our group.
    Its always a blast…and I get my eyes opened to the potholes I was blithefully ignoring.

    • Susan Dennard
      Susan Dennard May 20 2013 at 11:17 am #

      Ahhh totally! Working with people in different genres is BRILLIANT for your ms. I used to work with a romance writer, and it was SO helpful. My CPs now also write across genres, so they always point out different stuff. It’s invaluable, really. 🙂

  5. Alexa Y. May 20 2013 at 11:13 am #

    I love this post. I just love it! Letting a critique partner read your work is definitely an act of trust – but it’s also a great way to hone and improve your skills.

    • Susan Dennard
      Susan Dennard May 20 2013 at 11:17 am #

      Yeah, it’s definitely an act of trust. It can be SO scary to share your work, but ONE DAY you’ll have to (if you want to get published), and it’s better to build up that armor early on. 🙂

  6. ellewest May 20 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    Super-awesome post! I feel that if you’re not ready for a crit partner, you’re definitely not ready to be published. Allowing people to read and edit your work is a sign that you take writing seriously + are thinking like a professional.

    • Susan Dennard
      Susan Dennard May 20 2013 at 3:59 pm #

      Exactly!! You HAVE to be able to share, take criticism/rejection, and then work to get better or you will NEVER make it in this industry. 🙂

  7. Kim May 21 2013 at 8:31 pm #

    This is a great post and while ‘zombie-keep-away’ sounds like a real painful workout, it also sounds like fun! I completely agree with you. It’s when I didn’t trust my own writing that I wouldn’t let people read my work. Once I started to trust my writing, I got some awesome CPs and they really help me strengthen my stories and grow as a writer. They catch things that I wouldn’t. You can’t know how others will react to your writing. Something that makes perfect sense in your head might not make any sense to someone else.

    • Susan May 21 2013 at 10:49 pm #

      Yes, zombie-keep-away was no joke (and I would SO not be able to keep the zombies away now). But you’re so right: it’s when you DON’T trust your own writing that you don’t share. AND, just like you say, it’s so important to have those outside eyes for not only craft-improvement but basic plot-hole-catching or sense-making. 🙂

  8. Emma May 22 2013 at 2:05 am #

    I think what you said is so right. And I would love to find and be a great CP. But how or where do I find one?

    • Susan May 22 2013 at 3:19 pm #

      Actually, Erin Bowman wrote a post about finding a CP here: http://www.publishingcrawl.com/2012/12/05/finding-a-critique-partner/

      Hope that helps! 🙂

      • Emma May 26 2013 at 3:08 am #

        Thanks! 🙂

    • TJ May 22 2013 at 9:46 pm #

      Emma – What is your book about? I am also looking for a CP for a YA dystopian novel.

      • Emma May 26 2013 at 3:10 am #

        Hi TJ. I write YA paranormal and MG.

        • TJ Jun 5 2013 at 12:33 am #

          Emma – I’m still in need of a CP. If you’re interested email me your summary. carman dot tj at gmail

          • Emma Jun 5 2013 at 9:28 am #

            I would love to. Could you tell me a bit more about yourself? Are you male/ female for example 🙂

  9. Bella May 27 2013 at 11:32 am #

    Hi Susan,

    I want to start off by saying that I love your blog! I find it very helpful and positive for me. I am very new at this writing thing and I am having a very hard time finding a Critique Partner. I live in Ontario Canada and I have been posting ads everywhere in hopes that I would find that certain someone…but so far I have no such luck. Do you have any suggestions? I could really use the help!

    Thank you,

    Bella

    P.S. My area of writing would be YA Fantasy

  10. joy2b May 27 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    I trust basically all work to be imperfect. This was a lesson I learned from a helpfully harsh painting teacher. Yes, it’s good work, but paint over it any way, allow yourself the opportunity to learn and the painting to improve from the pretty sketch stage to a more finished work.
    The only form of english writing which I think does not benefit from being passed around to discuss a bit is strict form poetry. (It is such a disturbingly spare space that the words have already been searched for, weighed and shaved to fit, and it’s hard as a critiquer to offer any new feedback.)

  11. Sarah Jun 10 2013 at 3:44 pm #

    The part of this that resonated with me is the realization that critiquing somebody else’s work greatly improves your own. I heartily agree. While it’s often hard to see your own goofs, reading somebody else’s will make you say, “Huh, that sounds really, really dumb/clumsy/cliched/stupid.” and then you apply that to your own writing. I’m a professional proofreader, and I know that reading others’ work has greatly helped my own writing because I can see it more objectively.

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