Writing groups and critique partners are like bras. If they aren’t the right fit, they can’t support you.
Instead, they become really uncomfortable, digging into you at the wrong parts for the wrong reasons, and then leaving you feeling self-conscious and super awkward, like a hot pink bra with black hearts under a white t-shirt during a summer rainstorm.
I have one writing group that is mostly online, and this group I’d consider my CPs. They read everything of mine, including discarded projects, kick my butt and make me better, and are genuinely some of the best people I have in my life. They are the best fit bra. They’re the bra I forget I’m wearing because it’s so comfortable and I never have to adjust the straps and the underwire never bites into me and oh my god, they’re the perfect fit everyone should have a bra like them.
My in-person writing group fits, but not that well. The shoulder strap keeps falling down and I keep having to pull it back up and sometimes I’m not sure if I’m wearing that bra because uh, is it actually working?
Am I taking this metaphor too far? No? Okay good.
I’m trying to work things out with the second group. Tighten up the straps, fix that bent hook so it actually latches and stays on me for god’s sake. But I’m not sure still. I mean, “I know this is YA but…” is the bra-equivalent of, “I know this is a boob but…” well yes. It is a boob. GOOD JOB. Now support the boob!
We’re working on the supporting the boob part. I’m also trying. For instance, instead of assuming because my YA was not treated as the same legit literature as adult lit fic my romance would not be, I brought them the sexy first chapter of the Balletbook sequel. And I read it aloud. In Barnes & Noble. You know you’re sad you missed this particular event.
Anyway, the most common discussion I see online, especially with newer writers seeking eventual publication, or with adult writers getting online for the first time, is a) how do you find a critique partner or writing group? and b) how do you know they’re the right fit?
Finding a Critique Partner or Writing Group
1. Every February, the excellent Maggie Stiefvater holds a Critique Partner Love Connection on her blog. This one’s still up! Be brave. Message people and reach out, ask if they’re still looking. Sometimes it starts with just beta-reading which is fanfic speak for ‘test reader’, someone who reads broadly and often the whole ms instead of chapter by chapter, in an exchange.
2. How About We CP was started by the ever-awesome agent Jessica Sinsheimer and is a great resource as well.
3. Twitter! Take to Twitter. Those people you talk to through pitch contests, through #amwriting, through general discussions? Ask if you want to make a CP group together. That’s what my online group came together through Susan Dennard’s #bamfwordbattle word sprints!
Know How Your Group Is Going To Work
Some groups do weekly exchanges. Some do nightly word sprints. Some are flexible. Set up a format, but be willing to change it. My group started with weekly exchanges, then bimonthly exchanges, then we tried doing check-ins, and now we’re very free form. When people have stuff to share, we share it, and whoever has time, works on it. For us, this is working.
My in person group meets on Tuesday nights, but you’re not required to bring something every week. But by being there, and critiquing, you’re still learning.
Being flexible and being willing to try different ways to make the group work for everyone is the most important part of having a group, versus a single partner. At least in my opinion.
What Does A Best Fit Look Like?
I’m pro-diverse critique groups. At some level, writing is writing, right? Yes. But speaking as the only YA/NA/Romance writer of a group, I am here to tell you that it IS important that at least ONE person in the group reads and writes in your genre. Trust me, reading in a genre is NOT the same as writing in a genre. I read quite a bit of adult-marketed SFF and I am wildly underqualified to critique that writing and make it improve. The romance writer of my mostly-online group has a romance-focused writing group as well, which works really well for her too, because they can help better with the romance writing genre tropes and specifics than we can, but we’re there for the writing part: where the plot lags, where the characters act out of character, etc etc.
Your critique partners aren’t there to stroke your ego. Okay, yes, it’s totally awesome to get emails from CPs that are like “THIS IS AWESOME YOU ARE AWESOME I CANNOT WAIT FOR EVERYONE TO READ THIS” but if that’s the ONLY type of email you’re getting? You need better CPs. CPs are there to make you a better writer and no one is perfect. NO ONE.
You need people to kick your butt. Maybe they are nice about it, and maybe they aren’t, and how you can handle that or not handle that is up to you, but you are always going to have room for improvement, and you need people who read critically AND think like writers so they can say, “Okay, here, the pacing’s off because you’re shifting scenes with no transition, the emotion falls flat here because you let go of all this tension and your character didn’t even react, and wtf–why did this happen?” Because all of that? That’s how good books become great books.
If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments or hit me up on Twitter at @bibliogato!
I can’t believe I said boob on my blog.