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Feb 16, 2021

Why You Should Talk to Strangers

By: Alice Baine

Writing is strange. I find it both bizarre and wonderful that we have this indomitable urge to forge stories from our imagination, then graft them into a tangible medium for the enjoyment of random strangers. It makes very little sense, but it’s also something that makes us human. We need to produce art.

This passion consumed me ever since I was old enough to comprehend it. My free time went to pounding words out of a keyboard until they somehow arranged themselves into a completed novel, ready in all its glory to wow the world.

Naturally, after a quick check for spelling and grammar mistakes, I leapt to the next step. It was time to toss my grand opus into the maws of the big guys. I felt confident my prized literary jewel would start a feeding frenzy among publishers.

But, being somewhat proactive, I decided to consult Google for advice before I got ahead of myself. Nearly every how-to I came across had one thing in common: if you want the slightest chance of being published, you need a critique partner to review your work.

“How important can it really be?” I thought. “I’m a good writer. I’ve got a good story. Publishers will be brawling for the rights to my book.”

In spite of my obvious talent and the guaranteed bestseller in my possession, I decided to try out this critique thing first. Right off the bat, I learned a very important lesson.

I wasn’t a good writer.

My fantasies of fame, awards, and book deals crumbled like a house of straw as the internet huffed, puffed, and blew my hopes down. People hated my story.

Characters are weak. Plot is thin. Dialogue is stiff. The list went on.

I took it as a personal offence. So personal, in fact, that I never opened a single Word document for seven months. My love for writing vanished in one fell swoop. A lifelong passion disintegrated to a delusion I felt I’d been chasing like a fool.

But time heals all wounds, as they say, so once I’d nursed myself back to health, I thought I’d give these critiques one more chance. “Maybe if you look closer,” I told myself, “you might find some good advice.”

Turns out, the good advice had been there all along. It also came to my attention that my critique partners weren’t belittling my work; they were offering realistic tips on how to improve my writing. Not a single critique had any malicious intent. They were honest thoughts from real people who took time out of their day to offer a complete stranger some constructive criticism.

This realization transformed to an understanding of why critique partners have been raised on such a high pedestal. They really are essential. Outside of actually writing something, I’d argue in their favour as being the most important part of a good story. Critique partners aren’t there to make a buck off you. They’re not there to inflate their own egos or promote a book. They’re there to help.

I met my first loyal critique partner in 2016. To this day, we still talk, and without him, my writing would’ve never evolved beyond the mediocre drabble it had once been.

As we exchanged chapters, I also learned that reviewing his work wasn’t an obligation, but an opportunity to develop some critical thinking I could incorporate into future revisions of my own story. With each chapter exchanged, I learned new things, honed my craft, and built a friendship with someone who shared my love of writing. Together, we helped each other improve—something that would’ve never been possible had I valued my pride more than my growth as a writer.

I don’t believe there’s a kinder, more giving community than that of writers. Nobody likes hearing the negatives, especially on something as personal as a novel, but writers have an innate ability to lift others up rather than tear them down. How many other hobbies out there have a community so willing to sacrifice their free time just to pass on advice, constructive criticism, and even friendship?

They say writing is a solitary pursuit, but no writer ever has or ever will get anywhere without the help of a critique partner. It’s a community you’d be a fool not to join.


About the author: Alice Baine

I come from the middle of nowhere, so I say Toronto to avoid confusion. If I’m not staring blankly at my laptop screen, struggling to shake writer’s block, I’m either sailing, playing hockey, or diving through punk rock’s deepest archives.
I began writing at the age of twelve, and had a completed trilogy under my belt by the time I was eighteen. At twenty-one, I set out to create a novel fit for bookshelves around the world—a dream that hasn’t died just yet.
Silver Rain is a fantasy novel set for completion in winter 2021. Visit for more details and feel free to say hi if you enjoy my writing. I’d love to hear from you!