A few weeks ago my wife and I had a parent-teacher conference for our son in kindergarten. Overall it was a lovely meeting — he’s reading and writing and learning how to take care of worms. But when we got on the subject of math, the teacher’s bright expression faltered just briefly as she said, “There is one area where we’re still having some trouble.” She then explained that when our son counts, he has a habit of reaching the number 39, then jumping back to 20.
My wife and I digested this new revelation, both of us trying to remember when we’d ever asked him to count to 40 (I’m all for the functional application of kindergarten math, but I don’t think we have 40 of anything in our house). To prove her point, the teacher called to him on the other side of the room, and sure enough, he shouted back, “37…38…39…20…21…”
“There you go,” she said to us with a slight shrug. But then she did the teacher thing and helped him on the spot, talking him through the numbers until he broke through the invisible wall between 39 and 40. If she hadn’t intervened, I wonder if we might still be in that conference listening to him count.
We all get stuck sometimes, and I’m especially prone to this tendency in my writing. My plot hits a snag or I can’t get a character motivation quite right, and it’s like getting caught in a loop. I’m missing something, but since I don’t know what it is, I’m stuck repeating the same mistakes and landing in the same place I started. I need someone like my son’s kindergarten teacher to shout the numbers from across the room so I can figure out where I’ve gone wrong. For most writers, this takes the form of a critique partner or a critique group. They’re the people in our lives who listen to us count and tell us when we’ve accidentally skipped back to 20.
But getting connected with critique partners can be a daunting task. It’s not as simple as walking into a parent-teacher conference and knowing that the person on the other side of the desk is uniquely equipped to help you solve your problems. And what’s worse — these aren’t just meaningless numbers. They’re words…your words. Words you probably spent months or even years poring over and fine-tuning. I’ve been there. I know it’s scary. But it’s not as scary as being stuck at the number 39 and never even realizing it, so take the leap with me and consider these options to help you break out of the loop and find the number 40.
SCBWI Local Critique Groups
If you’re a member of SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), you may not have realized that it’s one of the best places to get involved in a critique group. Start by reaching out to your local chapter, since every region does things slightly differently. There’s also the SCBWI blueboard, which can be a little challenging to navigate, but does provide a forum for getting connected with other authors. I actually found two or three long-time critique partners through the Blueboard, one of whom eventually connected me with my literary agent!
Even with all the other social media options out there, Facebook remains one of the best ways for writers to connect, get advice, and collaborate with fellow creators. There are even a few groups that exist almost entirely for the purpose of exchanging manuscripts and critiques. My favorite for this purpose is Kidlit411 manuscript swap but there is also Middle Grade Fictions Writers, where authors often post looking for critique swaps or beta readers.
The Writer’s Match
This highly organized system developed by Megan Taraszkiewicz was created with the purpose of connecting like-minded writers. It’s completely free and could be a great way to establish some new critique partnerships that are tailored to your specific interests and needs.
Critique Circle is one of the most equitable ways to give and receive feedback. Writers earn credits by critiquing others’ work, which can then be applied to posting work and receiving feedback. When using the system, I always found that reading the work of others was just as valuable as the credits, since giving critiques can often be just as insightful as getting them!
Additional Lists and Resources
I’m hardly the first author to compile this information, and there are plenty of other blogs and articles that cover the topic. A few of my favorites include Carrie Finison‘s very helpful (and much more comprehensive) list of critique resources, as well as Jane Friedman’s article on how to find the right critique group.
I hope this list has helped you find some motivation to get others in front of your work. It’s been a revelation for me, and I know I’m not the only one who found a jolt of new energy and progress after summoning the courage to let someone else take a peek at that beloved but oh-so-flawed manuscript. You can do it! In fact, let’s practice together right now:
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