Writing: The importance of critical friends

Whilst I’ve been writing stories for years, I have always found it tricky to share my work.

I’m not sure whether that’s down to a lack of self-belief, feeling that my work isn’t ready for the wild or just simple embarrassment (I suspect a combo of all three), but the fact remains that until recently my writing remained locked in my notebooks. And that was fine and dandy; I was polishing my craft in solitude like any great undiscovered writer, after all. Surely the world would discover my tortured genius of its own accord?

Which is utter nonsense, of course! Like myriad writers before me, I’ve now realised that getting critical feedback is vital if you want to progress as a writer, so letting other people read your work is of the utmost importance. With that in mind, I’ve kept a productive writing partnership with a good friend over the last year or so as a means of getting useful input and offering the same. We meet regularly to discuss the writing projects we are each working on, set monthly short story challenges, share our drafts for comment and discuss new submission opportunities.

The perpetual back and forth of this partnership has been really helpful for a number of reasons. It has bestowed a feeling of momentum, given pressing deadlines that demand progress and helped me tackle that fear of sharing work. But perhaps most importantly of all, I can already see how it is strengthening my writing; by regularly sharing my work with the same person, the flaws, weaknesses and bad habits of my writing have become gradually more exposed, making them far easier to identify and address.

I already credit my writing partnership with an increased output, slicker writing and my first piece of published work, so I’d certainly recommend getting yourself a like-minded writing partner if you haven’t already. That said, there are a few things worth bearing in mind if you want the relationship to be as useful as it can be:

  • The key word in ‘critical friend’ is ‘critical’. This can’t be someone who will read your work and give little feedback beyond ‘great job!’ – they need to be brutally honest in exposing the little horrors of your writing if you are ever going to improve as a writer. I regularly receive drafts back packed with useful comments and red ink!

  • For a writing partnership to be successful you’ll both need to be similarly driven – it’s no good if one of you writes loads and the other nothing. Worth noting that the partnership itself should help increase your output, too; there’s nothing quite like peer pressure…
  • Treating it like a business relationship is really useful. Hold regular meetings with set agendas, agree how frequently you’ll update each other via email, set up tracking documents and shared drives. You’d be surprised how well things run if you get a bit of boring admin done up front

How do you go about getting critical feedback on your work? Let me know in the comments or say hello on Twitter.

By TomAntonyDavies

Writing sort. Manchester, England.

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