Critique (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Feedback)

Critique. Depending on where you are in your writing journey that word might inspire fear or excitement–or both! For a long time, I was terrified of critique, and I kept my work cocooned in my Google docs where prying eyes couldn’t reach it. Part of me knew I was stunting my growth as a writer by not getting feedback, but the thought of criticism was too scary to face. What if my work was terrible?

Critique is fun–really!

As I got more serious about writing, I knew I had to overcome my fears. I started small. I used the KidLit 411 Manuscript Swap (more info on it here) Sending out my work made my heart race a bit, and I avoided looking at the feedback until I was well-rested and in a good frame of mind (something I still do). But, I discovered something amazing: critique was fun!

Pretty much every time I send out a story to other writers, I get comments that make me go, “Ahhh! Why didn’t I think of that?” It’s exhilarating to get closer to the best version of my story, and other writers consistently see opportunities to make my pieces better. They help me raise the stakes, perfect my pacing, or make my ending just a bit more satisfying. Without other writers, I would keep missing opportunities to bring my work to the next level.

I also love giving feedback on other people’s work. When I swap stories, I’m amazed at the inventiveness and creativity of other writers, which makes me feel better about rejections (the competition is pretty amazing!). And, by seeing multiple drafts of another writer’s work, I get a sense for how a work progresses from first draft to final. Even better, my feedback and suggestions helped another writer improve her work, which gives me both the warm-and-fuzzies and a confidence boost. Remember that you–yes, you–have something to offer other writers.

How to find critique groups and partners

Are you excited about critique yet? Awesome! …Now what? For a long time, I didn’t know how to find critique groups. My friends and family were supportive but didn’t bring a writer’s lens to how to improve my work (or didn’t want to hurt my feelings).

As with many problems, the internet is here to help. (Note: my suggestions here are specific to kidlit.) I’ve already mentioned the KidLit 411 Manuscript Swap, which is a great place to start. Another huge resource is SCBWI. Join and attend meetings in your local area. I’ve consistently found other writers looking for critique partners, and they’re awesome people who love to nerd out about children’s books. What could be better? Resolve to swap contact info with at least three people at your next SCBWI meeting.

Not a member of SCBWI? You can still often join the Facebook group for your local chapter and post to see if there local writers who want to form a group. There are other online resources to help you improve your writing including the Children’s Book Academy and the 12 x 12 Challenge. These resources are not free, but come highly recommended for newer writers.

The most important thing is to find something that works for you. I enjoy meeting with critique groups and partners in person, but also appreciate additional feedback I can get from online groups. Setting a monthly critique group meeting encourages me to keep writing new picture books, so I have new work to share. Before my monthly meeting, I can use the KidLit 411 page to get one round of feedback, and then I get another at my in-person meeting. All these little milestones and deadlines keep me energized and writing.

What works for you? 

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