People occasionally ask me how I found my critiquing buddies and how I knew it was the right fit for my novel. As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, the people closest to you may work better as beta readers or sounding boards for new story ideas. But where did I meet the people who helped me to grow my novel and challenged me to become a stronger writer?
I met Sonja at a writer’s conference. It was my first conference fresh out of college. Prior to that, I’d attended two writer’s workshops, a college-level creative writing class, and I had been the president of our college campus’ writing group. But even with all my swagger and assumed experience, I had not even touched the tip of the iceberg. At this first post-college writing conference, I was certain I would find an agent, secure a publishing contract, and waltz out of the last banquet with head held high. What I uncovered, instead, was a friendship built on mutual career support.
While at first it was frustrating and then humbling to realize that I had plenty of room for improvement, critiquing became an exercise in honing my abilities. Sonja is one tough cookie, and she can dish out as well as she can take. Her blunt honesty is her greatest asset—both for her writing and for mine. From her, I learned how to keep things brief, to maximize tension, to develop inner conflict in each of my characters.
Another critique partner came along shortly after I met Sonja, though I’d known her from before. Amanda Flower, author of the India Hayes Mystery Series, the Appleseed Creek Mystery Series, and the Amish Quilt Shop Mystery Series (as Isabella Alan). When we first met, she was a boss at the campus library where I worked and where our writing group met. The year our first campus advisor left, Amanda Flower kindly stepped in and agreed to be the staff advisor and essentially a mentor for us newbie writers. I knew Amanda had written a book then, and was DYING to read it, but it wasn’t until after I’d met Sonja and felt sufficiently proud of my first manuscript and my critiquing skills that I contacted Amanda (who had sold her first short story at that point) and asked if she’d like to swap chapters. Her feedback was encouraging, honest, and gave me fantastic direction as my writing evolved. In turn, it was so satisfying to have read and offered my thoughts on her novels, and later learn that those books would make it into print publication.
Since then, I’ve had other critique partner experiences, mostly with high school or college age students in need of some encouragement who are looking to grow their own talent. I’m honored to participate in this vibrant exchange of ideas, this collaborative environment where great talent is put through the fires to be refined. For me, the critique partners that have best helped me grow have been the people who are just ahead of me in their skills and experience. They push me forward while also providing much-needed encouragement and empathy throughout the process.
I met my critique partners at writer’s groups, conferences, and on websites such as critters.org. What about others? Any tips on finding writers of your genre in your area?
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.