Mad Skills and Fresh Eyes: Find a Critique Partner!

Song MagickThis is a guest post by Elisabeth Hamill, author of “Song Magick: A Songmaker Novel

Elisabeth Hamill is a nurse/wife/mom by day, unabashed geek/chocoholic/closet sci fi and fantasy novelist by night. She lives with her family, dog, and cat in the wilds of eastern suburban Kansas, where they fend off flying monkey attacks and prep for the zombie apocalypse.

Song Magick, her first novel, won first in category for Teen Fantasy in the 2014 Dante Rossetti Awards for Young Adult Fiction.

Elisabeth Hamill


Hi! I’m Elisabeth Hamill, the author of the Songmaker series.

My advice for any aspiring writer is to find critique partners you trust, who write in the same genre.

Writers are, by nature, solitary creatures. For me, I need early mornings while my family sleeps in, caffeine, my laptop, and silence to hear the voices of my characters.  That solitude is vital to my creative process. But there comes a certain point where another writer’s eye is crucial to producing my best work. I know I become blind to my own mistakes after reading the same paragraphs a thousand times over.

A solitary writer may be able to churn out decent stuff, but it’s only through the input of knowledgeable editors and critique partners we begin to excel. No writer is perfect, and even best selling authors thank their writing partners and editors in the acknowledgements.

It takes courage to show your work to other people. Who better understands this than someone who occupies the same creative trenches you might be bogged down in? And for many of us scribblers, we thrive on positive feedback. But that isn’t what critique partners are for: they make you work for it, turn that dark mirror on your writing and find the places where plot sags, characters yawn, or clichés glare back from the page. They aren’t there to stroke your ego. In order to benefit from their suggestions, sometimes you have to take a few bruises. Sniffle a minute, absorb the constructive element, and get to work. Your manuscript will thank you.

Finding the right critique partner might take some time, and you’ll often find the really good ones have full schedules! They don’t have to agree with everything you do, but a mutual understanding of the genre and your personal writing style is vital. It might take time to develop that trust with some; others, you may connect with immediately.

Beware anyone who tears down your work in a derogatory manner—they aren’t there to help you. Real, constructive criticism is based on respect and a love of writing, not on making themselves feel superior to you. It is possible to give advice and feedback without being nasty. Likewise, the CP who only wants to hear good things about their writing isn’t there to grow—they’re using your valuable time to get the validation they need. Find a new partner.

Contests like WriteOnCon, #PitchWars, #SFFPit, and #PitMad are where I met critique partners who write in the same genres, and a couple of editors with mad skills. They’ve all helped me learn an enormous amount since I got serious about my writing. So, get over that fear of showing your work to others—it’s probably not as bad as you think it is!

Only the eyes of another writer can help you grow. With the advent of the Internet, writers have come together to support and teach each other like never before. The writing community on Twitter is phenomenal, and I met some amazing writers who have become friends and CP’s. I continue to learn and grow in my art thanks to them.

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