Wednesday, September 2, 2020

ISWG: My Dream Team Critique Group


Official trailer of Midnight in Paris from Youtube

One of my favorite writing movies is Midnight in Paris. In the film, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) travels back in time and meets the great writers and artists of the 1920s. He's ecstatic to have Hemingway and Gertrude Stein take a look at his novel.

I kept thinking about that movie as I pondered this month's question: who would like to have, living or dead, to be your beta partner? This is a hard question for me. There are so many authors, both living and dead that I admire. But being talented at writing doesn’t necessarily make you a good beta reader.

In my experience, the best writers aren’t always the best critiquers, because they understand the craft intuitively. And just as often, a not-so-good writer can give amazing critiques.

I decided I have four traits that I really like to have in a critique partner. They rarely occur in one person, so that’s why I  need more than one.

Here’s my dream team.

The living:

from Gail's website

The Encourager: Everyone needs someone who sees what you’re trying to do, even if you don’t yet. Gail Carson Levine, seems to have this gift. When she talks about critiquing other people’s work, she talks about using a light touch. And her blog posts about writing are infused with helping the writer feel confident in his/her choices. 


Photo by Carol Hart

Grammar Guru: Everyone needs someone like this on their writing team. The best person I know for this job is Carol Hart, who happens to be my aunt. She’s fabulous at writing humor, but I’ve never known anyone who can catch tense fluctuations or pronoun agreement errors like she can. I've learned so much from her and the writing books she's gifted me over the years.

Carol blogs about her random thoughts and silliness in alphabetical order at An Introvert Speaks Up

The Dead (otherwise known as the “Classics”):

Ernest Hemingway Hemingway, pictured in 1952. Photograph: Earl Theisen Collection/Getty Images

The guy who tells it like it is: Now I have to admit that Hemingway is not my favorite writer. He is, unfortunately, the reason I got a D on my first Honors English paper. However, I like that he’s brief and to the point. I imagine a critique from Hemingway a bit like this:

H: “This is awful.”

Me: “What’s wrong with it?”

H: “You’re the writer. Fix it.”

Unfortunately the tell-it-like-it-is critique partners might not be able to tell you how to fix your work, but at least they save you from sending stuff out too soon, right?

Photo originally from iStock via

The Big Picture Guy: Dickens might be one of those writers who is so talented that he can’t explain how he does what he does, but I don’t think so. From the way he’s described acting out his characters in front of the mirror, he seems like a guy who had to work at his writing. In fact, he kept a very rigorous schedule and detailed plan sheets to keep track of his multiple characters and plots.

For that reason, I think he’d have a lot to share about how to manage a plot and multiple characters.Oh, I’d so love to hear how he came up with his characters, even the minor ones are memorable!

How about you? Which writer(s) would you like to have as a critique partner(s)?

To read more Insecure Writer's Support Group posts or to sign up, please got to the Insecure Writer's Support Group website.


  1. Dickens is definitely a good choice. Yes, the ones that say fix it with no offer of how can be frustrating.

  2. Hi,
    I would enjoy having Dickens to read one of my stories to tell me what he thinks but I don't know whether I would change it. So much of writing comes from the experiences you go through while writing. That's how all of them got to what they achieve or achieved. I. don't believe in a formula of writing for all.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  3. Gail Carson Levine is a great choice. She is so talented. I love how you picked different authors for their strengths that could help you.

  4. I like your arrangement for a dream critique group! It makes me appreciate my real-life one. We've got a tell-it-like-it-is, we've got the grammar fixer, we've got the big picture guy... not sure we have an encourager. We might've chased away all our sunshine people. :)

  5. Okay, I have to share. I had a good laugh at the dialogue between you and Hemingway. I read it as the problem with your work being that you were the author. I had to read that again to make sure he wasn't being so sarcastic with you :)

  6. Midnight in Paris is one of my favorite movies. As to dream Beta readers, I'd feel like I hit the jackpot with any of the ones you mentioned. But also Rebecca Stead and Polly Horvath, (both living & writing kidlit) though I'd be on pins and needles fearing either showing me how my stories may have fatal flaws. I admire their craft.

  7. Hmmmm. Good choices! This is a fun idea. I like your choices. For me, since I think I always write long, I would like a poet on my team to help me trim things. Mary Oliver would be great. To help with settings, Edna Ferber. To make my characters and plotting great, John Steinbeck. To keep me grounded in middle grade, Gary D. Schmidt. Then I need someone like Gary Anderson to kick my butt! Thanks for the fun post.

  8. I have to put Midnight in Paris on my watch list. I loved how you picked out your dream team and all great choices. I laughed at your exchange with Hemingway. I have to ponder this some more because there are so many writers I admire...but definitely the greatest storyteller of all, our dear Jesus. But for ordinary humans, I'll take Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni for her sense of poetry, Madeleine L'Engle for her stories and teaching, and Vikram Seth for the sweeping emotions. Thanks for a fun post. I enjoyed reading all the responses too.

  9. There are so many bygone writers I'd love to hang out with, but for the purposes of beta-ing, I'd choose Mark Twain. He was such a cool person, and our views on many things seem in alignment.

  10. It was great hearing all your choices!
    Carrie--I love Mark Twain too. I'd like to emulate his humor. :)
    V--I like how Madeleine weaves themes into her novels, although I'm not a fan of her adult writing as much as her books for kids.
    Rosi-Gary D. Schmidt is the best at middle grade. And Steinbeck knows how to write sparsely.
    Mirka--Rebecca Stead is such a good choice. She is incredibly talented. I'd be nervous to have her read my stuff too.
    Steph W. --LOL! :)
    Loni--That's great that you have everyone. I feel like I have a good combination right now, that fills each of these roles in a way. And although encouragement is nice, I really need the tell-it-like-it-is people.
    Natalie--Yes, Gail is talented--and so good at teaching writing too. (I just love her blog.)
    Alex and Pat--Glad you like Dickens too!

  11. Your reviews and thoughts on authors and books are refreshing! Cannot say enough about your choice of Gail Carson Levine. Love her blog and her encouraging attitude!