Prior to attending the ACFW Conference in Nashville last summer, I joined Scribes, the organization’s online critique group. Though I had a great experience with Scribes, I was interested in building similar relationships with writers at home. That being said, I was overwhelmed and uncertain where to begin. During the conference, I spoke with several other ladies to learn how they connected with writers groups and critique partners in their local communities. As I entered the ballroom for the Keynote Address, I prayed I would meet someone from Cincinnati in the sea of 600 writers surrounding me. I invited God further into the situation as I slid into a seat at an empty table. Minutes later, all chairs at our table were occupied, and I began chatting with the woman beside me. Not only was she from Cincinnati, but we discovered we live only two expressway exits apart! We exchanged contact information, and upon our return home, we met for lunch. I asked about her experience with critique partners and writers groups in town. She offered me great advice, and then invited me into a partnership with her. We met again several months later to discuss specifics. Since she had worked with critique partners in the past, I deferred to her experience if I didn’t yet have a strong opinion. Now, after several meetings, I thought I’d share the points we considered as we outlined the details of our arrangement.
- Genre – We both write inspirational fiction, but I made sure she was interested in reading Amish fiction since my current manuscripts involve Amish characters.
- Frequency of Meetings – After consulting our calendars, we decided to meet every other Thursday. We polish our work to share on one Thursday, and then we have a week to critique the writing before we meet in person the following Thursday.
- Amount to Submit – We began sharing “one or two chapters” each time, and our submissions have been ranging from 10 to 15 pages (about 2800 to 5000 words).
- Format – We agreed to attach Word documents to an email when sending our writing to each other. This is less expensive than printing paper copies, and we avoid the risk of the other person inadvertently leaving the manuscript in public. And by tracking changes on Word, we can easily accept or reject the suggestions, which saves time.
- Where to Meet – We tossed out a few different options like our homes or the library, but we agreed upon a local Panera. I imagine we will soon have to search for another meeting place because when we start laughing…
- Concerns – While my critique partner is polishing her completed manuscript, I am working on the first draft of my first full-length manuscript. (My previous stories have been novellas). We discussed different points to review and selected those with highest importance for us at this point:
- Are thoughts / plot points organized in a logical order?
- How is the pace?
- Assess character development.
- Is the voice strong?
- Does the story sounds natural and believable?
Since then, I’ve talked with my agent and my mentor about my WIP. It was suggested I add another character’s point of view to help increase the book’s length. I created a new character named Miriam and drafted her first chapter. When I met with my critique partner to discuss this addition, I learned I had created a character with a tragic flaw, yet my critique partner empathized with her. She was so excited about this new story line that she strongly suggested I consider making Miriam the protagonist in this book. I went home and revised my outline and got started on Miriam’s story. Had I not listened to the advice of those around me, I could have missed out on a great opportunity to take this story to the next level.
So this is what we’ve found works for us thus far. My advice is to be flexible. I would love to hear how you work with your critique partners.