If you’ve read my other articles you know that I think that critiquing the works of others is perhaps the single-most important thing you can do to improve your writing. And, of course, you’re going to want other people to critique your work. But how do you find them? How do you approach them? How do you ascertain that you’re at roughly the same skill level?
It’s very important to find crit partners at approximately the same skill level. You might benefit from critiques given by people of vastly better skill level than you, but they’re not going to benefit from your critiques and their writing will appear to be so polished that you won’t learn much from critiquing their work. This is why published, big-name authors don’t critique works from novices or newly-published writers. But before you can compare skill levels, you have to find them in the first place. When you do find your crit team, try to be in the middle of the group in terms of skill level.
When I started out, I had a friend who had indie-published a few books. I wrote my alpha draft and then, on the advice of my tax preparer, started a Facebook social media presence under this name (which I visit maybe once a year, so don’t bother) and friended her. She introduced me to all her writer friends. Someone I didn’t know was looking for critiques, so I offered to critique her work. At this point I was arrogant and ignorant, and my new critique partner wasn’t too good at grammar, so I put my foot in my mouth up to the knee and told her that maybe she should go enroll in a grammar class at her local community college.
Don’t do this. Trust me. If I could go back in time and metaphorically gag myself, I would. She was very angry and never spoke to me again, and that’s how I lost my first crit partner.
I posted that I wanted crit partners and didn’t know how to find them, so someone recommended I try Scribophile. I recommend you try it too. I signed up that day and bought myself a membership. Memberships are $65/yr. Around Christmas many people gift them to folks who don’t have memberships, so if you’re desperate you can do that. You can join for free, but there are limits to how many works you can have on the site and how many messages you can have in your site-based DM inbox, and you don’t get to use italics. The site is owned and operated by one man, Alex Cabal, and he’s friendly and extremely responsive to DMs. Thousands of writers, including published pros, plus agents and small publishers, use Scribophile, and that means he has to pay for a lot of server space and bandwidth, which is why it costs that much. If you sign up for Scribophile, don’t complain about the cost. Not a single veteran member will support your plaint, and you’ll look bad. Scribophile is ad-free and sign-in only, which preserves your copyright. It’s also limited to people 18 and older, which means you can post erotica, horror, and other material that probably shouldn’t be read by kids.
Scribophile can be a bit confusing for new writers. It was for me. But once you master the learning curve, it becomes very easy. I would not be a decent writer today if it weren’t for Scribophile. Most of the regulars are awesome, though I should warn you that, because it’s home to thousands of writers from around the world, it’s also home to thousands of personalities and political views and some of them will clash with yours.
If you are the kind of person who thinks he’s owed crits but can’t be bothered to give them, don’t join Scribophile. Be prepared to pay a lot of money for editing.
If you’d like to know more about Scribophile and how it works, I’ve written a separate article for it. Also, FYI, most writers, in my experience, tend to gush about their own particular favorite way to find crit partners (mine is obviously Scrib) but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to find crit partners.
So I didn’t look around much, I’ll admit. Next I’m going to list off some places I’ve heard of or have had recommended to me, but caveat: I am not a member at any of them.
Wattpad is a thriving online community that is open to teenagers. I have heard good things about Wattpad; a friend of a friend posts routinely there and gets a lot of good feedback. People who use Wattpad do get published. Be warned: with 70 million readers it’s possible you won’t be able to find a user name that isn’t a string of random numbers. I wanted to create a login just to be able to describe it more, but gave up after eight attempts to create a login name.
The University of Iowa, which hosts one of the best creative writing programs in the US, hosts a writing MOOC (massive open online course) several times a year. It’s free, and it’s taught by their creative writing instructors. If you sign up for the next MOOC, you will be encouraged to form crit teams with other students. You can continue in those crit teams long after the MOOC ends.
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) encourages its members to form support and crit teams, which you could continue on your own after November, April, and July end.
I’ve heard that some people have found crit partners via GoodReads, but I’ve been on GoodReads for about 3 seconds so I don’t know.
Alexa Donne, a trad-published YA author who has a vlog on YouTube, routinely uses Reddit. I have never used Reddit on purpose so I can’t say anything about that, but check out her videos and see if Reddit would work for you. You will notice that her advice very closely mirrors mine. That’s because it’s good advice. Most experienced writers will tell you exactly the same thing.
Likewise, Jenna Moreci, an indie-published, successful fantasy writer, has a vlog on YouTube. She has a video on finding crit partners, and several videos on how to critique.
If you use Twitter, there are specific hashtags such as #cpmatch that you can use. You can also post on Twitter that you’re looking for critique partners or crit groups. Use the tag #amwriting and someone will eventually point you in the right direction.
Another thing you can do is join a professional society or your favorite writer’s fan club. Often they have adverts for people who write and want to find crit partners. At 16 I found my very first writing team via Mercedes Lackey’s fan club. This was pre-Internet, so we did everything through the post office, but I did end up in a group of six writers. Nowadays I’m sure it’s much easier, and I’m betting most author fan clubs can help you find a crit group, especially if you’re writing in that person’s genre.
Offline resources abound. If you have a local public library, ask the info desk librarian. They usually know everything. Check the bulletin boards; usually writing groups advertise there. For example, there’s a writing group in the East Bay Area called “B Street Writers” that I found through a local library. They have over 100 writers of all genres. They meet once a month. You just go to a meeting, be friendly, and see if anyone needs a crit partner. Don’t act like they’re there to serve you. Offer your services, and if anyone sounds interested, ask for an exchange.
Bookstores are also great places to look for writer’s groups, as are places such as Panera, Starbucks, or Peet’s. Writing groups often meet at places like those, and, while they might not have an opening for you, they could point you in some interesting directions if you ask nicely and aren’t obnoxious.
Many cities have recreation departments or adult schools that offer creative writing courses. Those are great places to find more crit partners. Sign up for one.
My last suggestion is to go to Google and type [your city or area] writing critique group and see what comes up. I did that for Chicago and found a couple of matches through meetup.com and several other promising links.
Good luck! If you know of any resources that aren’t here, leave them in the comments.