Friday, February 28, 2014

What to Look for in a Critique Partner

Last month I blogged about how to search for new critique partners, and today I'd like to expand on that and talk about what kinds of critique partners will take your writing to another level.  

My CP’s are sweet and wonderful people I trust beyond belief. They could never fit into a perfect box, but for the purpose of this post I’m gonna put nice generic labels on them (even though some overlap into several of these camps). I’ve shared my work with a lot of people and I’ve gotten fantastic and craptastic critiques. I learned something from every one of them. But in general, I think my work is pushed the most when I have this I at least one of each of these in my stable:

A CP who is ahead of me in the process
Authors who are well-published have typically been writing longer and critiquing longer, have gone through the revision process more times, and have the advantage of having worked with a professional editor at a publishing house. All of those things will further their critical eye, which means their critiques are often more extensive and nuanced.

A CP who writes just like I do
Authors who share a similar writing style, tone, or voice “get me” and what I’m trying to accomplish like no other. They’ll also more easily pick out spots where things aren’t working or just feel “off”. Lastly, they tend to have spot-on suggestions for how to fix trouble spots because they can envision what they would do if it were their manuscript. 

A CP who writes very differently.
Some of my CPs write with a much more literary style and about much deeper topics than my light and (hopefully) funny “chick lit for chicklets” stories. While it might seem like we wouldn’t be a good fit, they actually challenge me to get outside my comfort zone with my writing and hopefully I’m able to help them achieve a balance of depth and lightness in theirs. Another CP and I have opposite strengths and weaknesses that make us a really good match. My comments to her typically have to do with losing some of the interior monologues to tighten the pacing and hers back to me usually look something like “But how does this make her feel!” or “What is she thinking here?” and “Need more reaction from her!” I find this unbelievably helpful and I love being pushed like this. 

A CP who is behind me in the process
Hopefully this won’t sound condescending, but when I’m critiquing for someone who is newer to writing, it is far easier for me to spot what isn’t working and often also easier to figure out why it isn’t working or what a fix for the issue would be. Lots of times this problem-solving for someone else helps me to see a similar issue in my own writing or at least illustrates a point to me so that I have a deeper understanding of craft. For instance, “telling versus showing” became much more concrete in my mind when I read examples of it in someone else’s work and recognized how I was responding to it as a reader. Armed with that perspective, I was much more able to spot it in my own writing and much more willing to perform the necessary hatchet job!  

A CP who just plain loves your writing
I will confess, I have one beta reader who is really super positive. I love sending her my manuscript because I know I’m going to get it back with all kinds of rainbows and sunshine on the pages. Does it push me in my writing? Nah. I have other CPs for that. But it does lift me up to scroll through her notes on days I’m feeling particularly stuck on revisions. It reminds me that my early draft wasn’t BAD, it just needs to get better.

There are far more things I can (and will) say on the subject of critique partners, but for now, I’d love to know what balance you strike with your CPs. Do they fit into any of the boxes above?

1 comment:

  1. I love the last one! I've never had a critique partner quite that excited about my work! I have had the CP who wrote something on the other extreme of what I write, though, and it wasn't a good fit. She wrote really dark murder mysteries and I wrote sweet, cutesy romances. It worked from my end--she just couldn't stomach the sugary stuff! That's the only case I've ever seen it not work, though. I'm not a very good editor/critiquer. I tend to see the good even when something is bad!