But as much as I appreciated their help, I couldn't escape the nagging voice in the back of my head that said, You need more feedback, you lunatic. And so I nervously began a hunt for critique partners--and got very lucky, because the first person I contacted, the fabulous Liz from Liz Writes, turned out to be a great match. We were both members of our local SCBWI, but I first found her by searching for Tweets near me--I forget which search terms, 'writer' or 'YA' or something like that. I'm glad she didn't get creeped out when I contacted her and it turned out that we only live a few miles from each other!
Starting with a new critique partner is like starting a new job--you're testing out the waters, trying to figure out what is required of you and what your expectations are. Am I supposed to line edit? Should I question the motivations from the start, or should I wait until I've read a little more? You might come away from the first few sessions feeling a bit bruised, having never been subjected to such a deep analysis of your work before. But eventually you find your groove, getting to know each other and the stories, and it goes from being nerve-wracking to fun.
A good critique partner asks you the structural questions you need to hear: What does your MC want? Does this scene move the story forward? You may not even agree with all the changes your critique partner suggests, but still find that their feedback highlights an area that needs better definition. And you, because your brain has been filled with thoughts on plot and narrative, should be examining their work with the same critical eye--which in turn may help you learn more about your own writing style.
Last weekend, Liz pinged me out of the blue to tell me she'd thought of a pitch idea for my WIP, and it was terrific. Boiling down my story into one crystalized thought is incredibly hard for me, and when I got her suggestion I did a happy dance right in my car and asked her, What would I do without you? To have someone who knows your story, your characters, but who can look at it from a distance and perspective that you will never have--that's priceless. So, writer friends, don't be afraid to share your story, because the results can be so rewarding.
(I acknowledge that I've gotten very lucky, and not everyone has the best critique group experience. For an interesting rundown of the possible misfires, check out the YA Muses' excellent Critique of the Critique Group.)