Monday, October 4, 2010

Critique Partners

The best advice I can give to newer writers--other than to keep writing and keep studying--is to find a couple GOOD critique partners.

By GOOD, I don't mean multi-published authors or english professors, no I mean as in a GOOD FIT.

I like to think of finding a good critique partner as that of finding a good husband. Some are lucky and they meet their future prince early while others have to go through quite a few dates and relationships to find Mr. Right.

When I first started looking for a critique partner, I met up on an eharlequin loop with a couple. They were very nice and we talked and exchanged chapters etc, but something just wasn't right. Part of it was because we wrote very different genres and had very different styles. Now, this isn't necessarily an issue, but we also just didn't click. She didn't take kind but honest critisism well and relashed back for one thing. Chock it up to equalling a really bad date LOL.

This being another point--not that I did, I honestly was kind and encouraging, but you couldn't even mention a plot hole without an argument--not pretty. Yes, I was discouraged but knew I needed someone because no one in my family nor group of friends or community wrote...I was all alone. So, I persisted.


I think I went on about seven 'dates' before I found a small group of ladies who, even though we live all around the world, have become great friends who I can count on when I need them. Who are honest but encouraging and make me laugh all the time....even when the R's roll in--and they still do, not as often thank goodness, but they still do. To have others to help you through those times and to celebrate when a contract comes in is truly priceless!

And here's some tips for the type of critique partner you want to find and you want to be: You want a kind but HONEST critique partner, not to mention you want to be honest and KIND. Don't start pointing out every little comma, every missed modifier and horrible plot hole. You need to really listen, first to what they are looking for--if it is a final read proofing before submission then sure, help them with that modifier. But if it's their first draft and they are looking for overall or general comments, then start by giving them those. And second, find ways to point out the parts that stand out to you without being painful. It doesn't help them or yourself if you are praising what you know has holes, yet, at the same time, it does no one any good to be too brutal about it either. Take a paragraph or few pages and give examples, give praise but be honest, and especially let them know you are there for them whether to work things out, brainstorm, reread and reread again. Critique partners are there for support, a second set of eyes, and hopefully a lifelong friend with the same interest in writing as yourself.

So don't get discouraged, go on a few dates and feel them out. Like finding a husband, if you are lucky, you WILL eventually find the right person to help make your dreams come true!

A couple of us did meet on the eharlequin boards and joined our small band to two others. Eharl is a good site as well as a number of others like The Wild Rose Press and Romance Divas as two that come to the tip of my tongue at the moment.

For those with critique partners...how many 'dates' did you go on before you found them, and what keeps you working together? Any other advice for those looking?

25 comments:

  1. I guess my critique partners are my husband, my sisters and a few close friends. Not really an author group although I do contact several to have them read my finished product and to give their input. All give good help and are very kind.

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  2. Bronwyn said:

    Well, as Stacy's crit partner, I can honestly say I had loads of fun feeling her out...bbaaahhhaaahhaaa...I'm sssooo funny when I'm hopped up on allergy meds.

    Seriously, though, I had some scary CPs...like the woman who hadn't written in YEARS but felt it was perfectly acceptable to tell me about industry standards...or the woman who had gotten a request 3 years ago, hadn't done anything with it, but lived in the "moment," or the CP who didn't feel like she'd done a good job unless someone was crying...
    CPs really are like finding true love. You can settle or comprimise, but in the end, there's no happy ending. The best thing to do is plug on, keep going, because when it works, it's the best place to be. The princesses keep me encouraged but disciplined, they're honest without being cruel, and they give the best hugs (they're also top flight when it comes to kicking my a$$ if I'm not writing)...
    www.bronwynstorm.com

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  3. I started out the eharlequin boards myself looking for CPs, also looked around on the WRP loop as well, and I went on a couple of "dates" that just didn't work out. I had one woman who refused to be my partner b/c my heroine was pregnant outside of wedlock. One woman I just never heard from again. In the end, I ended up with 5 or 6 of them now. lol But I write rather quickly and a couple of them slower, so we're not always exchanging. But they've all become very good friends that I talk to outside of writing as well. Honestly, I'd be lost without mine. I need that second pair of eyes.

    Great post!

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  4. I've not had very good luck finding critique partners. I get most of my feedback from my writers group, but we can't bring more than 10 pages at a time. Even so, their suggestions are usually spot on once I go home and read their comments objectively.

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  5. Critique partners - be very careful - RJ Morris was my critique partner and look what happened. She dragged me into opening a publishing house!

    Rhonda

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  6. Good CPs are your lifeline--if, as you've noted, Stacy, they are constructive and kind. When I first started writing fiction, I went to a bootcamp for horror. OMG. I felt like a baby seal being bludgeoned. The mystery group was rather, um, condescending, each vying for the smartest puzzle. Romance was the only genre that actively worked to develop authors in an educational manner. Lucky for me I found Maryland Romance Writers (MRW) and the Wild Rose Press. We just started a small (12 people) crit group with MRW and we very carefully surveyed members to see what was wanted and to lay out ground rules. Only one meeting, but NO TEARS, lots of thank yous. Bottom line we want to publish and we have to help each other get there.

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  7. I joined a writers workshop, exchanging chapter-by-chapter critiques, when I first started learning. Several of us were repeat critiquers of each others' stuff and we began emailing off the loop for further encouragement and questions. When that workshop folded, we formed our own group on Yahoo. Over the past 7 years, 50 women have been through our crit group. Of that number, 4 of us remain as critique partners at the published level and 4 plug away at the almost ready to publish level. That's some serious dating LOL

    I don't feel my work is truly read to be "out there" unless these authors have read it and critted it.

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  8. Some good info to chew on here. I don't have a CP, never really thought about it much. I'm one of those edit as I go writers, so my finished 1st draft is usually in pretty decent shape. At least I think so. Hmmm, maybe I need a CP to point out the flaws in this theory! Any takers?

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  9. Thank you all so much, this is great input! You've all got some very valid points and I like that there are many different 'paths'. Like relationships, that what critique partners are all about...finding the right fit. That's 'fit' Bron, not feeling-up LOLOLOLOL

    Keep them coming! This is turning into a great discussion!

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  10. I've been in two really AWFUL critique groups, and finally found one that lasted perhaps 10 years. This was very strong, very strong. Sadly, for reasons which are personal to all the members, the group suffered a sudden, catastrophic death a few months ago. One of those blow-ups where things were said which should never have left [my] mouth--and which triggered emotion-based rants which unfortunately are difficult to get past.
    I keep thinking there is a reason for all of this and I'm taking my own sweet time looking for another group to join--or create.
    I don't think length of experience matters as much as the willingness to listen. I don't think genre matters as long as members show [not tell!] respect for other's genres.
    I think respect is the most important gift any writer can bring to a group. Respect for self and for others.
    Thanks for letting me share.

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  11. Something I'd like to point out when looking for critique partners isn't necessarily level of ability, but drive to be published. This can range all over the spectrum and there's no wrong or right to a person's personal drive. But if the folks you are critiquing with don't share your personal drive, or commitment to publication, the learning curve will shape itself accordingly.

    For instance, my critique partners and I were all baby authors. We didn't know how to critique a manuscript to save our lives. But we stuck it out because all of us were starving for publication. Because we shared the same drive, we were all constantly researching behind the scenes, and our collective knowledge increased at a significant rate. Within six months, our critiques had a drastically different tone and we were very much able to offer guidance that really helped.

    Now three of the original five are published within a year and a half of starting at literally, ground zero. And the others are only limited by their day-job constraints, absolutely not talent.

    So don't necessarily ask for a list of credentials when you're starting out. I'd advise to guage committment and drive above all else. Authors who have a high drive for success will quickly learn what is needed to critique effectively, and you'll all learn from each other in the process.

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  12. I agree sometimes it's hard to find a critique partner that works for you and other times you send something to a contest and one of the judges leaves their e-mail on your entry and you become long distance CP's!

    I have one CP who is a line editing CP and my Devil's advocate/Why this/ And how come they couldn't..

    And one who gives me big picture comments.

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  13. More very good points to consider! Unfortuntately, another similarity to relationships is harsh fall outs. No one wants them but if you learn from them, then you move on with greater knowledge not only about what we want, but about ourselves.

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  14. Gee Paty, I met once a CP the exact same way. What a coincidence! ,

    Great comments and suggestions, I can think of nothing to add. It's all about chemistry and finding the right people who "get" you, your style, your characters, etc.

    Nic

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  15. I like what Paty said. It's nice to have a partner who looks at the big picture and another one for the small stuff. I also love your graphic of The Princesses!

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  16. I could not write with out my critique partners. They pull out the best in me, and they keep me straight. If I miss anything they are on top of it!

    Faith V. Smith

    www.faithvsmith.com

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  17. Great topic, Stacy. I've yet to write a rejection letter without strongly encouraging involvement with a critique partner/group. Indeed, when the match is right, as you said, it is priceless.
    Years back, our group of five emerged from writing classes we were attending instructed by a great author who remains a dear friend and mentor to each of us.
    I would like to mention, although I'd never given it much thought, Claire brings up a fine point — guaging the drive to be published. Interesting.
    Our group has since dissolved, but it was an incredible learning experience, based on support, desire to improve, and gentle honesty. At least one of our group is multi-published and, obviously, I've found my niche, which I do so love.
    Joelle Walker
    Editor, The Wild Rose Press

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  18. As an editor, I have noticed that critique partners play a big role for me. What I mean by that is that there are times that I am trying to explain to an author why a manuscript is being rejected or why I am suggesting an edit change in a contracted piece. For whatever reason, we aren't connecting. The author has shown her CP my information and then based upon their relationship, the CP knew how to say it in a way that clicked.

    Of course, this is if you have one of those special CPs who you love working with. :)

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  19. I found my first critique partners through my local writer's group. Amy Corwin and Jenna Black. Jenna moved on to become a multi-published author and although she is no longer my critique partner, she is still a great mentor. Amy and I are still critique partners and I don't know what I'd do without her. And I recently found another critique partner through a Synopsis critique group. And we just seem to fit. I've had other critique partners that didn't fit and when it's not quite right, you just know. So don't feel guilty if you drift apart. A CP is like a husband! Sometimes, you're better off without them. And sometimes you just know you're in it for the long haul!

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  20. I started a critique group about two years ago - mostly people I met on chats who just seemed to need or be looking for the same thing as I was. We started out with only one published author and now all of us are published.

    I would say a good critique partner comes second only to good writing. Being able to point out strengths and weaknesses as well as counting on someone else to do the same is well, "priceless."

    Good luck! Choose well!

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  21. I miss my last critique partner. We found each other through a writing group and have been on many of the same writing ups and downs. She sold when I did and stopped writing the same time as me. She hasn't returned to the words and I miss her so. She knew my writing weaknesses though it helped that she's also one of my best friends.

    Finding a replacement isn't easy. Selling a book is easier. :s

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  22. As one of Stacey's crit partners, I was very lucky to only have one 'date' before finding this wonderful group. I met one who introduced me to the others and we're still having a ball.

    To be a good partner be encouraging, supportive, and honest. If someone's story isn't working tell them and give suggestions to help fix it. Be willing to take critique and accept that help when it's offered. Above all, be friends as it makes the whole process so much more pleasant.

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  23. I can't say enough about my critique partners! We've been together for about 5 years--all online, have gone through several family deaths and major illnesses--are there for each other for critiques, for hugs when we get rejections, for cheers when we get acceptances. I always acknowledge my critique partners in my books--the Rebel Romance Writers, may we always reign, which were the result of a moderator who wasn't part of our group, but who ruled even when we had a stalker in our midst and wouldn't block him from the group. So we rebelled and formed our own critique group!

    For the first time ever, I met two of my critique partners in Orlando at RWA Nationals this summer, and on Wednesday, I'm meeting one of them in Scotland to do research on Highland castles since we both are published in Highland romances. I would never have done this if it hadn't been for having such wonderful critique partners. :)

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  24. I just want to thank all of you...what was started for a simple helpful hint has grown into a wonderful discussion!

    Someday I do hope that my crit partners and I will be able to get together, if nothing more than a few laughs and my being able to tell them in person--with a HUGE hug--how important they've been to my career and to me!

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  25. Stacy, Like several others who commented, I've been through several critique groups. One cp even blatantly plagiarized from my work. Now, however, I have strong cp's who are friends as well as critique partners. I met Jeanmarie through Hearts Through History's online group, others in my local RWA chapter. You said it perfectly, and I hope readers took note.

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