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Critique Partners, Story-telling, & People Looking Over Your Shoulder

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I’m a storyteller, not a writer.

I used to think I was the latter, and then I thought I was the former because all of the former were the latter by default. Now that I’ve met bunches of both, I know they aren’t the same thing. I’ve met people who really and truly are purely writers. They write for themselves. They construct elaborate journals only for their own eyes. They would continue writing even if they never got a word published.

I am not that person. I write for an audience. For the reaction. To change people’s moods and hearts. And if I couldn’t write words, I’d tell stories in another way. I’d compose music or paint images or get into stand-up comedy to continue telling stories. For me, the equation isn’t complete until I’ve solved for audience. 

Because of that, critique partners and beta readers are crucial for me. I want to have a hint of how my stories are landing before they are released into the wild, particularly as my stories get wilder and stranger as I stretch my bizarre wings. Good critique partners help me hone perception on a small scale.

Finding them is a tricky thing.

I’ve written before how I tried writers’ groups, both online and offline, without success. Ultimately I realized that I needed to find readers with the same story-telling priorities as mine, or it was never going to work. I hosted a critique partner match-up on my blog and went through over a dozen partners before finding two people — Tessa Gratton​ & Brenna Yovanoff — who I connected with instantly. They weren’t agented at the time, and I was, but it didn’t matter. I was looking for story support, not career support. Tessa leaned more high fantasy than me, and Brenna leaned more contemporary than me, but they both had the same interest in character that I did. And last year I stumbled across another, Sarah Batista-Pereira, and knew right away that her story-telling priorities were the same as mine, even though she comes from the film world. And this year I was delighted to get a clever read from Courtney Stevens​ — again, more contemporary than me, but still focused hard on character. All of them offered me a slightly different perspective on my manuscript while sharing enough of my story-telling sensibilities to act as an extension of my own brain. A delightful cacophonous sounding board. People to look over my shoulder before the entire world does.

I’d like to help other writers find some critique partners for themselves. In the past, I’ve done yearly match-ups like the one I linked above, but they ended up with hundreds of unwieldy blog comments spread across multiple posts and platforms. I’m going to try something different now at the end of ‘15. I’ve set up a Google group with the most common genres split up into different discussions, and no moderator. I’m going to cross my fingers and see how it does. It is here: Critique Partner Match Up.

Here are the rules, such as I ever have rules:

STEP ONE: Find the discussion post that matches your genre best — there’s one for undecided/ mixed genres, too. Post a comment there saying the age range (adult, YA, MG) of your project, a brief, one-sentence blurb about your book (or just the genre if you don’t want to share more than that), and whether or not you have an agent, etc.*. Also include the last book you read that you loved and also the book you feel epitomizes you as a reader. If you write in a language other than English, include that info with the language in all caps so it’s easy to find while skimming the comments. Finish with a way to contact you.

*You don’t have to include the agent/ publication information unless it’s important to you to find a critique partner who is also agented/ published. I was agented/ published when I met Tessa/ Brenna/Sarah; they were not. It depends on the sort of support you’re looking for.

STEP TWO: If someone else in the comments sounds like a possible match, send them a message saying so and find out if it’s mutual. If it is, exchange the first 50 pages of your manuscripts, critique them, and return said critiques. If either of you doesn’t feel like the crit relationship is working at that point, you get to smile and say thanks and walk away without any questions asked. This is VERY IMPORTANT.This ability to shake hands and part ways without hard feelings is the reason why this process works. Sometimes it takes a few exchanges before you realize it’s not a good match. Don’t feel pressured into sticking with each other — remember that this is honest speed dating and a ‘not for me!’ is not a rejection based upon merit.

Okay. GO.

  • Renna

    Thanks so much for this post! Before I read this, I felt like the general consensus was something like, “if you’re writing to be published, you’re not truly a writer.” I felt like, to truly be a writer, I couldn’t allow myself to think about being published someday, I could only allow myself to think, “It doesn’t matter if this is ever published – I’m supposed to love writing.” And I enjoy writing for sure, but the idea of having a finished product out in the world for people to read is so exciting to me. So I’ve been questioning whether I should really be writing – I felt like, deep down, I wouldn’t write if I couldn’t be published. This post reassured me that it’s not because I’m vain and want a book with my name, but because I want to tell stories more than I want to write words. It doesn’t feel complete if I can’t share it in some way. Now I know that’s okay. Again, thanks!

    • Marlyn Smith

      I was going to write the same thing, but you beat me to it. I felt exactly the same way. I kept pushing that feeling down, as if I couldn’t feel the want to share my characters as with someone who would love them as much as I do. This article made me feel better. Thank you so much Maggie.

  • Gamegod2

    hi i have a idea and im a student i think you will likethe idea its a fith book and my idea is to call it recover

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Maggie Stiefvater
Hi, I'm Maggie Stiefvater

Professional novelist by day and artist by night. I live an eccentric life in the middle of nowhere, Virginia with my charmingly straight-laced husband, two kids, and neurotic dogs. I’m the author of the Books of Faerie (LAMENT and BALLAD); the bestselling SHIVER trilogy (SHIVER, LINGER, FOREVER), and THE SCORPIO RACES.

How I Write

Maggie Stiefvater Novels

Copyright 2012