This weekend my best friend from university was in town for a visit. We went to school for Television, me focused on screenwriting, her on the business side of the industry. She’s always been my biggest cheerleader, genuinely thinking everything I write, even the shit I came up with in first year, is great.
Cheerleaders are important people for writers to have in their lives. We tend to be neurotic self-doubters so it’s vital to have someone who doesn’t think your decision to be a writer is stupid, insane or unachievable. Cheerleaders have faith you’re going to make it and love you even when you fail.
But only having cheerleaders read your work isn’t helpful. I love my bestie, but I can’t go to her for constructive criticism. I need critique partners for that, people who will tear my work to shreds and reveal the weak spots. We all need that. But the trouble some aspiring writers run into is they don’t realize the people they’re asking for feedback are cheerleaders and not critique partners.
A while ago I read a novice writer’s script that was absolutely abysmal. And that’s okay when you’re new to writing. You have to make mistakes to learn how to get better. But when we tried to give her feedback, she pushed back, saying that others who’d read the script really liked it and thought it was great. She said she’d consider some of our critique but certainly not all of it because of the opinions of her other readers, one of whom was her mom.
At that moment I judged that her biggest problem may not be her writing, but her inability to tell the difference between cheerleaders and critique partners. And the sad thing is if she doesn’t figure this out, it’s unlikely she’ll make it as a professional writer because she’ll never improve.
I know, terrible! So for those worried you’re in the same boat, I created this:
Quiz: Critique Partner or Cheerleader?
1 – Does your reader have experience critiquing (manu)scripts?
a) Sure, they’ve read all my stuff.
b) No, but they have very insightful thoughts in book club.
c) Yes, they’ve critiqued in school or in their career.
2 – Does this person love you?
a) Yes, unconditionally.
b) Maybe, as a friend.
3 – Is your reader a professional writer or otherwise in the biz?
b) No, but they want to be.
4 – Is this person’s feedback:
a) all about what they liked in the (manu)script.
b) what they liked and what they didn’t from a subjective point of view.
c) focused on the craft of writing, being as objective as possible.
5 – How did you meet your reader?
a) Known them all my life!
b) Through school, book club, friends, mutual love of books/films.
c) Recommended by a trusted writer friend or professional.
If you answered mainly a) you have a cheerleader. If you chose mainly c) you have a critique partner. And if you selected mainly b) it could go either way. Of course, there are many variables to take into consideration and exceptions to the rule. Maybe your loved ones give fantastic feedback! It is possible. Just be aware that their feedback will be clouded by their feelings for you.
And do note that the most important question in this quiz is #4. The type of feedback someone gives weighs more heavily than any of the other criteria. Keep your ears tuned for craft-focused critique and value it above personal opinions.
It’s great to have cheerleaders, the people in your life who believe in you and pick you up when you’re down, but it’s equally necessary to have critique partners that push you to be your best.
For more on feedback and critique partners, check out these other posts:
Next Up from Heather… It’s occurred to me that telling the difference between subjective opinions and objective craft-based feedback isn’t always easy. Next week I’ll write about how not all feedback is created equal and give examples.