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On Critique Partners

Updated: May 16, 2023

Several years ago, as I began my writing journey, I was lucky enough to have an amazing mentor. She shared her literary nest, fed me the juicy worms developing babies need to grow, and showed me how to flap my wings. She encouraged me until I was strong, ready to hop to the edge of the nest and fly. And when I peeked over the edge at the landscape below, ready to lift my wobbly wings for that first solo flight, she said, "You need to get some critique partners!"

But where would I find them? How would I know if they were a good fit? And, most importantly, would I be able to give enough back? After all, I was just learning myself.

I knew I needed to figure it out, somehow. So I signed up for several classes formatted to include peer feedback. I made sure the classes focused on the genre I was most interested in developing at that moment, flash fiction. In class, I actively engaged in giving feedback at every opportunity. I carefully read comments and suggestions from others. I noted other writer's styles—not just their ability to write amazing prose, but their ability to critique kindly yet constructively. I noticed that some people walked that line really well. That some people "got" and appreciated my style. These were writers who were able to make suggestions that resonated, helping me get better while respecting my unique vision.

At the end of class, I found that those I most "clicked" with were open to testing the waters as writing partners. And I'm proud to say we are still happily critiquing today!

Who are the writers I'm so lucky to call critique partners and friends? And what do they have to add to this month's topic that I haven't covered? Alot, it seems! I asked each of them to contribute some thoughts.

Here's what they had to say—.

Amy Marques

I recently emailed a potential new critique partner to say that before we exchanged stories, we should talk about how we like to work, what our expectations and boundaries are, and what I hope to gain from the experience. I signed off with, “sorry, this probably sounds like an online dating profile.

Their answer? “This is way more important than dating. It’s writing!

I laughed. But there are similarities.

When choosing your critique partner or group, it’s important to

(1) Know yourself—what you need/want, how you work best, what your triggers or insecurities are, and what your strengths and sensibilities are.

(2) Establish “rules of engagement,” to temper expectations and set reasonable boundaries

(3) Circle back every so often to make sure it’s working

Much like with other relationships, you might have different tiers of critique partners. You don’t have to “marry” everyone. Some can be acquaintance critiques, others are the intimate “reads-every-draft-and-brainstorms-and-cheerleads-your-underdog-stories.” There’s room for everyone, as long as your expectations are realistic for each partner!

See? I can’t help it. I think of critique partners as a story’s co-parents. Or maybe aunts and uncles. Maybe pediatricians, therapists, playdate parents, random other adult you meet at the playground, stranger parent you commiserate with over a meltdown at the grocery store…layers of relationships.

So, yeah, when seeking out critique partners, it might be useful to think of it like online dating.

Amy Marques grew up between languages and places and learned, from an early age, the multiplicity of narratives. She penned children's books, barely read medical papers, and numerous letters before turning to short fiction and visual poetry. She is a Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best of the Net nominee and has work published in journals and anthologies including Streetcake Magazine, MoonPark Review, Bending Genres, Gone Lawn, Jellyfish Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, and Reservoir Road Literary Review.

Ali Mckenzie-Murdoch

Writing is even more exciting when it’s shared! Of course, we want our work to be read, but I’m talking about the very first eyes to see your initial drafts when you're most vulnerable. Sharing this moment with a critique partner is intense, and you get to see them in the raw, too! I have such a deep connection with Kelli and Nicole. They both bring a unique angle to our critique party and I feel tremendously supported by them. It’s fascinating to watch their work develop and, as we cheer each other on, their achievements feel like my own. It was gut instinct that led me to work with them as well as admiration for their work. I don’t think you can know if a writing partnership will work until you try, but if it’s a fit, your writing and your life will be enriched.

Ali Mckenzie-Murdoch is a UK dancer who lives in Zürich, Switzerland. Her work has been published in Across The Margin, The Bluebird Word, Flash Fiction Magazine, Bright Flash Literary Review and Flash Frontier. Shortlisted for National Flash Fiction Day 2023 Micro-Fiction Competition. Between running her dance studio and writing, she enjoys lifting weights and wild swimming.

Nicole Brogdon

I found myself writing more after the death of a close friend. For five years, I watched for writing group partners— to undo writing-aloneness, to motivate with deadlines, to ask

“Does this make sense?” My fifth class on, I found two stylistically different, talented voices with editing smarts, and invited them to group with me. Monthly, we exchange Google Docs of 1K or fewer words, then rewrites.

I appreciate the generosity of my writing partners—with resources, critiques, invitations to enter writing contests, dreams to be smart journal “issue buddies“. One year in, we’re a team, cheering each other’s publications. I love Ali’s direct questions to me, her art restoration background, merging via vivid colors in her stories. I marvel at Kelli’s ability to shape and plot, and her nurturing encouragement. I deliberately picked writing buddies with diverse opposite skills from me.

One day early on, I felt crestfallen after a journal rejection. My teammates were hitting home-run journal acceptances. I reminded myself, I’d wanted to be in a room of gifted people, writers more organized than me. I reframed all this as, “You’re gonna have to trot to keep up,” to grow. We continue trotting forward!

Nicole Brogdon is a trauma therapist in Austin, Texas, USA, interested in strugglers and stories everywhere. Her flash fiction appears in Friday Flash Fiction, Toho Journal, Microfiction Monday, Dribble Drabble Review, Blink Ink and elsewhere.

Thanks, everyone, for "stopping by," I hope this month's topic was helpful. Please feel free to comment with any questions or additional thoughts on finding fantastic critique partners...I would love to hear from you!

Kelli XX

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Maria Warner
Maria Warner
Apr 06, 2023

This is exactly the guidance I needed to create a critique group. Thanks.

Apr 06, 2023
Replying to

Maria, so glad it was helpful! ❤️


Windy Lynn Harris
Windy Lynn Harris
Apr 05, 2023

Great post, Kelli! I agree--all writers need a trusted critique circle. Thanks for sharing your advice and including the voice of others :)!

Apr 06, 2023
Replying to

Thank you, Windy! 😊

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