Blogmas #6: First Readers

c8764a5c78d5bd752ec626a97421b5d0 People often wonder how to find "critique partners", other writers who'll critique your drafts in return for you critiquing theirs. I was too shy, as a baby author, to hunt down writers to pair up with, so I glomped onto my friends and bribed them to read with chocolate instead. And the most important thing, I think, for a "critique partner" or a first reader isn't necessarily that they're a writer that you admire, but that they're a reader that you admire. That they're passionate about stories, that think critically about them and love sharing their thoughts and opinions. They're people who you trust when they give you a book recommendation. You're excited to read it. Your opinions might not always sync up, but you think they're smart, you love their reading tastes, and if they told you something was good, you'd believe them.

And, of course, they're willing to read your unpolished work and give feedback. That's kind of important too.

I'm lucky enough to have two close friends whose bookish opinions I can always rely on. The first is a friend who's a scientist, not a writer, but very artsy in lots of ways, and who reads passionately and always gives me super in-depth notes on all her fantasy nerd reader-y thoughts and insights. (She also answered my endless questions about science for Long May She Reign, which I'll be grateful for forever). We don't have the same tastes in everything, but we share them on most things, and she's the sort of person who, when she likes something, she really loves it. And when she dislikes something, she is pretty darn firm on that dislike too. I really trust her passion and her opinion, and her help is always amazing.

My other reader friend is a writer, and we have almost identical opinions on almost all books and movies. Which is amazing, because when I'm in the middle of working on a book, I can't trust myself to have an opinion on it. I've spent so much time with it, and have so many frustrations with it, that I can never get an even vaguely accurate read on the quality of what I've written. It's impossible to read my stuff objectively. I read it and all I can see are the flaws. Flaws like "the whole book" and "no, seriously, you're going to have to rewrite this from scratch."

So if my writerly friend reads something of mine and gives me her opinion, I can trust that, if I hadn't written the book myself, that would probably be my opinion too. If she likes it, then maybe I would like it. She provides really important, amazing, detailed feedback on plotting and characters and all the rest as well. But it's like she also provides a bridge out of all my writer-y thoughts to what my reader thoughts might be. She can tell me "don't worry, this is the sort of book that we love," and I can believe her and move on with my revisions with a lot more confidence and hope.

And yes, I am gushing because she just got back to me on the latest book draft I've completed -- the first person to read it! -- and I'm so grateful to her for both the confidence boost and the super useful critique. I've lucked out, on an insane level, that I had these two wonderful people as close friends long before I started pursuing writing as a career, and that they're willing to help me with little more than hugs and chocolate in return. But if you're getting into writing, and you're wondering who you should beg to read your work, look to your reader-y friends. I don't know what I'd do without mine.