I've heard a lot of comments by many in the publishing industry that the occupation of a writer is a lonely one. You sit at the computer (typewriter or yellow legal pad, for you nostalgic types), alone with your thoughts and the voices you hear, crafting your tales. Though that part of the process may be a solitary experience, there's a bigger picture. I've been writing for many years and along the journey, there are many people a writer needs to further their career along: beta readers, critique partners, editors, publishers, cheering section, readers and more. The journey to getting published is rarely done without others and they all have their place and importance. Since I recently found my critique partner, that's the one I'll focus on today. (Click on the links above if you're interested in learning more about the other people that contribute to a writer's journey.)
I've had input from many readers in the past. Some critique partners I've teamed with have been well-meaning, but they've actually been readers giving input. They've recommended changes and told me their opinion (by the way, remember that opinions are like bellybuttons – EVERYONE has one). So how do you weed out the readers from the critiquers? And what are the GOOD qualities of a critique partner?
In my personal experience and opinion, a critique partner is the one who is going to act very much like an editor: they will line edit AND give you their opinion on your story. They'll call you on common mistakes, make recommendations for revising a sentence, and tell you when something doesn't make sense. They're most likely more experienced at what editors are looking for, so you will most likely be a reader for them, but they'll be a critique partner for you…but not always. As writing is a very personal thing, writers tend to be sensitive about what they've written and take criticism very personally. As I am fond of quoting:
“There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” ~Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith (American Sports Writer)
As such, they will provide encouraging comments for when you do something right or when they've particularly liked something in your piece. Here are the qualities that I think are valuable in a critique partner (CP):
- HONESTY – This is the most important element of a CP. How can you improve your writing if you don't know what you're doing wrong?
- Empathy – They've experienced having their work dripping with red ink like the aftermath of a battle, so when they break the news to you about the faults of your own work, they do it from a place of understanding. Comments like, “Oooo! This was one of my own biggest crutch words! Editors hate this word.”
- Experience – They MUST know grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. Also, they should have gone through the editing process at least once so they have an idea of what editors are looking for.
- LOVE the Editing Process – CPs are potential editors. They LOVE to get in there and refine the words that make up your story. They will take the time to go line-by-line through your manuscript and help you revise and enjoy every minute of it.
Doing YOUR Part as a Partner
Remember this is a two-way street. If you're providing feedback on your CPs manuscript, you should have all the qualities listed above. Additionally, be gracious about receiving the incoming criticism, or what I like to call constructive feedback. Here are a few qualities about being a CP on the RECEIVING end:
- Step AWAY from the Manuscript! – I recommend reading through the manuscript, taking in your partner's comments and slashing, and then step away from your work. DO NOT comment right away (unless you know you can be positive and joyful). Your CP has spent a lot of hard work line-editing and commenting on your piece, so don't waste their time OR retaliate by being defensive and coming back to them with both barrels blazing.
- Don't Take It Personally – As budding writers and ever-students of the craft of writing, there is always something we can learn and we're not perfect. Therefore, a critique of your writing is not a critique of you as a human being. A tough skin as it pertains to our own writing is a MUST in this career. Remember the comments are about the craft and structure of your writing.
- Be Selective – Not all the suggestions your CP (or even your editor, for that matter) will be right for your story. Remember, they're not in your head. They're reading your story/writing from an outside perspective. Examine each comment and suggestion and look at it objectively, asking the question, “Does this really make the story better?” If not, you don't have to accept it. Just be open to their ideas and try to remain neutral in your judgment.
- Be Courteous – If you find you don't like any of their comments or suggestions–for whatever reason that may be–don't be rude and don't avoid them. It's okay to write them a letter/e-mail letting them know that you appreciate the time they took, but this may not be a good partnership due to differences of opinion. If they were rude in their initial comments, it's also okay to let them know you didn't appreciate the style in which the critique was delivered and would rather not continue the partnership. In any case, always stay away from “YOU” statements. “I appreciate your input, but perhaps this is not a right fit for us,” versus, “You were really rude in your comments and you didn't have to say it that way.”
There are tons of resources on the Internet for locating a source of people who are willing to partner. It's getting the right one that takes time. Finding a critique partner is much like finding a romance partner…it takes time, patience and even some interaction in order to discover the right person.
Do you have a critique partner you love that has qualities I didn't cover? Have you had bad experiences with critique partners that you think others can learn from by telling them what to avoid? I'd love to hear your comments!
That's my two pence..