One of the very first things I learned when I began my writing journey was the value of having critique partners. I never suspected back then how much I’d be relying on these writers to share the ups and downs of this unexpected path as years have gone by.
In January 2018 my dream of becoming a children’s book writer began. Back then I had no idea of where or how to start. I don’t remember exactly how I came across Storyteller Academy, but it was one of the best things that could’ve happened to me early on my journey. I joined a course called Making Picture Book Stories and Dummies. The class was fun, entertaining and very eye opening. In that moment I realized writing books for children isn’t as easy as I once suspected.
The goal of the class was to create a picture book dummy, which meant I didn’t only have to come up with a story, but I also had to illustrate it. As a requirement of this class, we were assigned to critique groups of six participants. We would meet weekly online (in a platform provided by Storyteller Academy) to share our advances and provide feedback about each other’s work.
I have to admit that in the beginning, I found the sharing and critiquing a bit intimidating. Having my story and drawings critiqued by others wasn’t easy, especially because I have no talent for drawing and I didn’t know how to illustrate in the computer either. In contrast, some writers in my team were really good at illustrating, so their dummies looked way more professional than mine. However, what really mattered wasn’t the quality of the illustration itself, but to learn how text and illustrations work together to create a picture book. We learned about page turns and how to “show and not tell”; and also to allow illustrators “space and freedom to create” by not including everything in the text (this means not being too descriptive with scenes so that illustrators can have room for their own ideas). The truth is the knowledge I got in that first course of writing picture books has been invaluable to this day.
As time went by and we started to know each other more, it got easier for me to provide constructive and useful feedback to my teammates and to accept their comments, which sometimes were challenging and not easy to receive. However, after being together for several years, I’ve realized what matters is to keep in mind your critique partners want to help you create a strong, engaging, and unique story. Of course, the last call is always the author’s; but it’s a gift to have different viewpoints to consider in order to make the story the best it can be. You’ll find most of the times your critique partners have a point with their feedback. This is exactly what you need to consider when you’re providing a critique yourself. You have to make sure to help the story become stronger, flow better, be clearer; but you also want the writer to be encouraged and motivated.
At the end of our course, our team of six became a team of three. We decided we still wanted to share the journey and to continue supporting each other. Thankfully, we were able to keep “getting together” in the Storyteller Platform. After a while, another member joined us and we have been together ever since. Actually, this January will be our 4th year together!
With this critique team, I meet the 1st Monday of every month at night. We read our work in progress, provide critiques, talk about our successes and struggles of the month and ultimately we support each other through good times and the bad. We still exchange our manuscripts in the Storyteller Academy platform and we get together with Google meets for our discussions. We have a Messenger group for communicating when needed. I love our team because we have different writing styles, we care about different topics and also two of them are illustrators, which helps me a lot since I’m a PB author not an author-illustrator.
Besides my original critique group, nowadays I have another one which was created through PB Chat. For that one we decided to focus on providing written critiques once a month using Google documents and Slack for communicating. We have been together for more than a year, but right now this group is changing. There are some writers who are taking other paths while new ones are joining. So right now, we’re in the process of deciding a schedule and feedback process that works well for all of us.
Not all the critiques I receive come from groups; there are also talented writers with which I swap manuscripts in a 1-1 exchange whenever we need to. These critiques are only written, but they are very useful and sometimes I can get them faster than the ones from my groups.
In my critique partner universe, every writer is special and valuable to me. Everyone is in a different part of the journey, and each one provides a valuable viewpoint, background, experience, and writing style that combined are a real treasure. My critique partners have definitely helped me become a better writer and also I have improved the way I provide feedback to others.
As you can see, it doesn’t matter how you start your journey as a writer, you definitely need people you can trust in your corner. People who can help you grow, who challenge you in a positive way, and whose opinion you trust, respect and value. People for whom you want to be that exact same way.
The path to publication is long and it’s filled with ups and downs. Trust me, you don’t want to walk alone. It’s more fun, more rewarding and more encouraging to do it along others who share your same passion and who will keep you walking forward.
I feel really lucky and grateful to have these writers in my life. I don’t know what the future holds for each of us, but I want to be there when their stories get to the shelves just as I know they will be there for me when my time comes.
Do you have a critique group or partners? How have they impacted your path to publication?
Mariana is represented by Natascha Morris at The Tobias Literary Agency. Her debut picture book Santiago’s Dinosaurios will be published by Albert Whitman in Fall 2022. Besides writing, she enjoys photography, traveling and k-dramas.
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