Why I Can’t Ask My Best Friend to Critique My Writing by Guest Blogger Melody Steiner

I am delighted to present a new guest blogger, my critique partner and friend Melody Steiner. She’ll be posting on Saturdays, so please watch for her posts. Before offering her words of wisdom today, I’d like to introduce her. Here she is:


Here’s her impressive bio:

Melody Steiner works at an academic library as a circulation technician. In 2006, she graduated from a small private college in Ohio with a Bachelors of Arts in English. After she met and married her husband, they relocated to Seattle, WA. In March, 2011, she graduated from the University of Washington with a Master in Library and Information Science, aspiring to becoming a full-time librarian. Her hobbies include reading the latest YA series (recent favorites include Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go and Paoli Bacigalupi’s Shipbreaker), camping, and enjoying long walks with her best friend. Last November, they had their first little peanut—a rambunctious baby girl. In addition to adult science fiction, she writes fantasy and YA novels. She is represented by Nicole Resciniti of The Seymour Agency. You can find her at http://twitter.com/melody_steiner.

And here, for your reading enjoyment, are her thoughts about critique partners:

Recently, my beloved husband looked at a few short stories for me before I sent them off to magazines. When I asked for suggestions on how I could improve, he could not think of a single thing I should change. However, he did think that a particular dialog between two characters “sounded silly.” How so? He did not know. When I asked him what he thought of the story in general, he suggested that I revise it. How? He had no idea. Should I cut something? He didn’t know. Were there words misspelled? Not that he knew of. Was it boring? He didn’t think so. Did the dialog flow? Yes. Did I add enough tension and conflict? Definitely, yes. Did I keep it short and not too full of exposition? He thought so. Then how should I revise it? His answer was “I’m not sure how you’d do it, but you can always revise it.”

Love the guy dearly, and he is extremely talented in other ways, but giving a helpful critique isn’t one of them.

The fact is, unless your best friend is also in the publishing industry or has a good eye for the mechanics of editing and revising, asking him/her to critique your manuscript is probably going to lead to some tension in the friendship. First of all, he or she might not be familiar with the jargon of the writing industry, the buzzwords that an experienced critique partner might use.  Secondly, best friends either have a tendency to be your worst critic (as in, nothing you write could ever compare to the greatness of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion), or else they have the tendency to be your worst critic (why change perfection?).

The critique partners you choose should be those who can help you pinpoint exactly what you need to do to enhance your work. This takes a fundamental and regularly expressed belief from them that your work is good-enough-to-be-great, mutual trust, and tough skin. They should feel comfortable enough with you to say exactly what’s on their mind, to nitpick word choices and phrases and world building and character development and pacing and plot and conflict and tone. A good critique partner is well worth their weight in, well, a stack of gloriously written books.

That’s not to say the hubby can’t ever read your masterpieces. There are critique partners and there are beta readers…people who read your work the way potential fans will. I find if I ask a list of specific questions, such as “what technologies struck you as unrealistic?” or “what characters could be cut?” my husband will come back with sections highlighted that stuck out to him. And if those parts didn’t work for him, they might not work for other readers, either. Then I can take his list to a critique partner and say, “tell me why?” and all this will lead to some practical feedback I can use to improve my work.

Enough about me. Anyone else have critique partner “taboos” or pet-peeves that have steered them away from asking certain people to look at their writing?

– Melody

One thought on “Why I Can’t Ask My Best Friend to Critique My Writing by Guest Blogger Melody Steiner

  1. Aww 🙂 Sonja’s an awesome critique partner, too!I determined early on that my mother and sister are primarily beta readers. I have a good friend who I used to think of as a critique partner, but his style is so vastly different than mine (and he sometimes is almost as vague as the illustration in the post!) that I now consider him more of a beta reader. A while back, I asked many friends to read a novel I was preparing for a contest. It was interesting to see the various responses – I had a couple ‘this was great!’ replies, a few that gave me a lot of information about typos and grammar errors, and a couple that gave me some content reviews. It helped me identify who might be good to send things to in the future.

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