How to Find People Who’ll Sharpen You and Your Creative Work

by | Creating | 8 comments

“Just as iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other.” —Proverbs 27:17 NIV


You’re tired of hearing what you want to hear and going nowhere. Deep down you know your creative work could improve.

Like a cotton ball can’t hone a sharp edge on cotton candy, fawning and insincere people can’t help you become a solid crafter in your creative field.

After many years, I’m becoming a sharp iron wedge with WRITER chiseled into my face. I’m grateful to those who’ve sharpened me. Here are the activities that honed me the most.

1.   Join Groups

Image courtesy of criminalatt at

Image courtesy of criminalatt at

In groups, you’ll meet experienced people who can sharpen you. These iron wedges frequent  groups to fine-tune their own chiseling edges and to mentor and teach others. So, join:

  • National and local groups
  • Conferences
  • Email or online discussion boards
  • Accountability groups
  • Character-building groups
Image courtesy of cbenjasuwan at

Image courtesy of cbenjasuwan at


  • Look for groups that:
    • Share successes
    • Promote one another
    • Share information and opportunities
    • Encourage each other
  • Seek participants in these groups who care enough to sharpen people with truth, excellence, and gentle firmness. Be ready to reciprocate.
  • Join groups outside your creative field. A friend writes stories with hockey settings. She took an 8-week hockey course.
  • Join groups that sharpen your character. For me, studies delving into Biblical truths and calling me to live up to God’s commands sharpen me.
  • Participate often in your selected groups and develop friendships.

2.   Seek People Who Will Sharpener You personally.

  • Critique partner
  • Mentor
  • Coach
  • Contest judges
  • Professionals


  • Look for partners who care enough to sharpen you with truth, excellence, and gentle firmness.
  • Give your best in critique groups. Then invite one or two to team with you. Those who:
    Image courtesy of anekoho at

    Image courtesy of anekoho at

    • give their best back;
    • want you to succeed as much as you do;
    • you want them to succeed as much as they do;
    • give and receive constructive criticism well; and
    • are committed to the critiquing process.

  • Listen to contest judges or editors. If you disagree with them:
    • kill your pride and learn from them;
    • realize something hit the judges or editors the wrong way, and they made the effort to comment;
    • look deeper and be sharpened; and
    • relax—it’s you who decides how you’ll use their help.
  • Seek accountability partners who don’t let you off the hook. God is my first-line accountability partner, but my friends in Forward March help me also. Look for new partners who’ll:
    • review your goals and progress;
    • push you to move forward;
    • encourage you to dust yourself off and start fresh when you’ve had a bad week.

Being sharpened can be painful. But ultimately, chiseling through hard work successfully and sharpening others’ creative edges is a great reward.


  • Look for people who care enough to sharpen you with truth, excellence, and gentle firmness.
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What did the person who sharpened you most do for you?

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American Christian Fiction Writers

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  1. Linda Yezak

    Terrific post, Zoe! The online writers group I started with was I still love it there. Lots of support, great discussions. There’s a forum for posting your work for peer review. Newbies and old pros alike are welcome there. Hope you and your readers check it out!

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Thanks, Linda. I looked at the home page of Looks like a great site to sharpen writers.

  2. Joanne Sher

    Love this post, Zoe! We all need those iron sharpeners, don’t we? They’ve made a HUGE difference in my life!

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      And in mine, Joanne. You are one of my sharpeners.

  3. Delia Latham

    Excellent post, Zoe…you should submit this to Wordsmith. Seriously.

    I’ve learned so much from various posts and people in ACFW, but honestly, my personal critique partners have sharpened me more than any other interaction. I wouldn’t have gotten this far in my writing career without them.

    The person who sharpened me most gave me honest, loving feedback. Gentle but unrelentingly truthful about my weaknesses…AND my strengths. That combination of compliment and criticism kept me encouraged, but aware that I still needed honing in certain areas. She’s still helping me learn, and it makes me proud to say that now I actually feel that I have something to give back when she asks for critique. That’s success. 🙂

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      My critique partner is perfect for me too. I have also learned much from ACFW—local and national. Thanks for your comments, Delia.

  4. Jane Foard Thompson

    My critique partner is perfect for me, too. I’ve learned a lot through the years in critique groups, conferences, ACFW and studying on my own. Now I’m at the place where I need someone to laser focus on what is missing or off, and keep me moving when I let my priorities slip, and that is what she does for me. And I appreciate that we are very different personalities, so we balance nicely.(:

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Aw, pshaw, Jane. But I agree we seem to sharpen each other, wanting each other to succeed.

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