Working with a critique partner

By Mayra CuevasFind Yourself a Critique Partner Find yourself a critique partner was some of the first advice I received from published authors.  The first time I heard this I stared at the speaker blankly. What the hell is a critique partner? And where do you find one?As always, I turned to my trusty friend Google.A search for “critique partner definition” answered the first question. The role of the critique partner was to read my story, provide encouragement and point out what I needed to work on (more details on this below).A search for "finding a critique partner" led me to a website that promised I would find the critique partner of my dreams. It was clear before I dived in I needed a strategy.How I Got Mine With a writer's conference on my calendar (last October) I set out my intention. I prayed to meet the right person, who could bring out the best in me as a writer and in turn I could do the same for them. I was looking for someone that I had good rapport with and who understood the themes in my story.I walked into the conference’s first workshop, a pitch critique with a published author. The room was wide open, I could pick any table to sit at. I went for the table with only two women, one participant and the author. I figured with only one other person I wouldn’t have to compete for time.Prof. M, the other participant, was a college professor writing her first novel for young adults, just like me. Her novel had themes of immigration and Latino culture. As she was pitching, I thought how crazy it was that I was probably the only other person in the room with experience on both subjects.Then it was my turn to pitch my story, which has Buddhist and mythological themes. And lo and behold it turns out Prof. M teaches theology. What are the chances of that?!I was sooooooo excited when she asked me if I wanted to be her critique partner. I almost reached across the table and gave her a hug. I swear, it was a million times better than getting asked to the Prom.How We Run Our Critique Group To navigate our critique group of two, Prof. M suggested we read “The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Make Revisions, Self-Edit, and Give and Receive Feedback.” I think this book should be a mandatory read before joining a critique group. It lays out in detail the basics of a critique group, the areas of critique in fiction and non-fiction, revisions and self-edits.Prof. M and I agreed to meet for 2 to 3 hours one day a week at a coffee shop. About three days before our meetings we exchange chapters.While reading each other’s chapters we make hand written notes on each page to include first impressions and issues with structure and grammar. We also write a detailed report with a narrative of our critique, including sections on Overall Highlights, Plot, Characters, POV (Point of View) and Voice, Scene Structure, Dialogue and Description.During our meetings we discuss each others notes and go over the report.The thing I most treasure about our meetings is that we both come to the table with open hearts and minds, ready to receive feedback on our work. At the table all ideas are heard in an environment that fosters creativity and the flow of new possibilities.More than once I have included in my third draft Prof. M’s suggestions for changes in scenes. Even if at first I wasn’t sure of the result, I went ahead and tried it to see what would happen. And every time, the end product was stronger.Prof. M’s notes and reports have become a lifeline as I work on my second and third drafts. I reference her feedback continuously.In this process I have discovered a depth of writing I didn’t know I was capable off. The process has pushed my limits as a writer and as an artistic creator of stories, the result of being completely open to new possibilities and letting go of all fears of rejection and inadequacy.I am deeply thankful for Prof. M, and grateful for the constant enthusiasm, energy and effort she gives to my work.Do you work with a critique partner? In what ways have they helped you improve your writing? Share your experience by posting a comment below.