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Mar 4, 2021

Working with a Critique Partner: A Match Made in Heaven

By: C.S Gregg 

Like every geek worth their salt, I have lofty aspirations of becoming a prolific writer. Also, like many geeks, I have no friends. Specifically, my life is marked by a dearth of friends willing to pour through the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of words of that novel I’ve been talking about for so many years. So, finding a critique partner has been the missing ingredient to taking my craft to the next level. That’s right, I call writing “my craft.” Impressed? Well, CritiqueMatch has been an invaluable tool in helping me find the critique partners who have given me the confidence to speak with such hubris. And, like any tool, there’s a right way and a wrong way to use it. Here are a few tips that I think might help you to find and work with critique partners online.

1) Be gracious and polite. Approach critique partners like you’re about to embark on a long-term relationship with that good-looking guy or gal you’ve been checking out for a while. I can only speak for myself, but if I’m going to share something as important and, dare I say, as intimate as my writing with a complete stranger, I need to be romanced first. Did I make it weird? Good! In those early stages of your blossoming relationship, show that you appreciate the value of the other person’s writing as much as you value their opinions. I know, maybe you’re tempted to get cute and sassy, trying to show off how witty you are in your invitations, but remember, the internet is a treacherous animal. The written word can rob a message of its tone and candor, turning your attempt to be smart and offbeat into an obnoxious, triggering disaster. And yes, I do appreciate the irony of what I’ve just written. Oh, and don’t even think about being sarcastic in a written message to someone you barely know. It’s tough to walk that fine line between friendly and professional without sounding too self-important or too aloof. Just. . . don’t try too hard and I promise, you’ll score. . . a critique partner!

2) Be selective. It’s okay to play the field, but there’s a fine line between building a few meaningful relationships and shameless promiscuity. Sure, sometimes it’s hard to say no, but if you partner with too many people, you’ll find it difficult to get back to everyone in a timely manner. Also, not everyone who reaches out to you has the same taste and temperament as you. Reading is hard, man. Just thinking of all those words makes me angry. You don’t want to be stuck reading a novel that just isn’t for you. So, before jumping into something long term, exchange a chapter or two and agree that if there’s no chemistry, it’s time to move on. Offer a perfunctory “It’s not you, it’s me,” to part on amicable terms, and consider keeping in touch. Maybe the timing just wasn’t right, maybe the project wasn’t right, but that could change in the future.

3) Be consistent, reliable, and transparent. Not everyone on a site like CritiqueMatch has enough time to make critiquing a full-time or even part-time job. That said, everyone appreciates a certain level of consistency and reliability. Indeed, at some point we all want to enjoy a finished product, and if getting feedback from a beta-reader is an important part of that process, a finished product becomes increasingly fleeting when your partners are unable to give you some regular feedback. What’s regular? Well, that’s between you and your partner. Could be a few times a week or a few times a month. I always appreciate it when my partner lets me know that they may be unavailable for a certain period of time. Just like any long-term relationship, communication is key. And as long as there is a mutual understanding of what you would like to get out of your exchanges, your critique friendship will blossom into a prosperous marriage of your ideas with someone else’s constructive advice.

4) Be thick-skinned. Your work is your baby. Earnest criticism can feel like having your kid’s teacher send a note home, telling you that they’re failing at math, can’t read to save their life, and smell like an old egg salad sandwich. (I’m probably not speaking from personal experience). But, it’s all part of the process. If you can’t take constructive criticism, your kid, once so full of potential and promise, will grow up to be a foul-smelling, illiterate adult who can’t count to threeve (which my coddling mother assures me is a number, regardless of what my mean old first-grade teacher said). I’d add the caveat that in being thick-skinned, you also need to take all criticism with a grain of salt. Nothing’s personal, and many of your partners may not be experts, but rather, well-meaning enthusiasts. You also need to take into account that a lot of what works or doesn’t work in your writing could be something very subjective and not necessarily an objective flaw in your writing. Politely accept all criticism and make the changes that you see fit.

5) Be brutally honest. That doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk, but once you’ve built a rapport with your partner, it’s your job to make the exchange worth their while. Constructive criticism is more useful to your partner than vapid praise. I can imagine there are people who are looking to find someone to stroke their ego, but if you feel obliged to compliment work that you find falls short of some reasonable standard, you’re wasting your time by reading it, and you’re depriving your partner of an opportunity to improve. The least you can be is brutally honest, unless, of course, you want someone else’s kid to smell like expired egg salad.

6) Be grateful. Because being there for someone in this capacity is work.

That attitude has worked for me so far. CritiqueMatch has been a godsend and the feedback I’ve gotten on the site has been worth its weight in gold. How much does feedback weigh? One million pounds, almost the same weight per volume as a fruitful marriage. #facts 

Happy writing!  

If you survived that, you’re definitely my kind of people. Check me out @


About the author

I’m a college biology teacher who wants to be a fiction writer when I grow up. I’ve written a few novels that are looking for a home and maybe a little TLC from beta readers, editors or agents. In the meantime, you’ll find me ranting and raving about movies, books and video games on my blog. If you ask real nice, I may even write a thing or two about biology.