(By the way, I love lists. I think I’m going to be doing a lot of them.)
Anyway, critique partners. I have two, and I’m also a member of two critique groups, and critique mistress at RWA Online. As critique mistress (and I really can’t say that job title often enough), it’s my job to matchmake critters. What surprises me is how few people contact me looking for a partner.
Why wouldn’t you want a CP?
Okay, to be fair, now and again you meet a soul-sucking shredder who bleeds away your confidence and leaves you a huddled shell, unable to write a word. But mostly CPs are awesome, and here’s why.
1. A critique partnership is reciprocal.
Or at least it should be. It may sound like you’re onto a good thing if your partner is happy to look at your stuff, but strangely reluctant to send their own; I mean, you’re getting something for nothing, right? But actually, you get at least as much out of providing crits as you do from receiving them. Or at least I do.
Critiquing someone else’s stuff forces me to look at why I think something isn’t working, and then forces me to articulate the reason to the other person. Without that, I think it would have taken me a lot longer to understand what makes passive voice passive, or to nail down deep POV.
2. A critique partnership is company.
Being a writer is lonely, especially if, like me, your other job is stay at home parent. I can go entire days without speaking to another adult if I’m not careful. But having a critique partner means you have someone else in the same or a similar situation, someone to talk to about craft, and about all those “Will I ever be good enough?” anxieties.
3. A critique partner is free.
Okay, so they’re going to be fallible. But a good crit partner is part beta reader, part editor, part agony aunt, and you don’t have to pay a penny.
4. A critique partner is supportive.
Once you’ve been working on a project together for a while, your partner will be almost as invested in your success as you are. They won’t roll their eyes when you talk shop and they’ll squee with you when you win your first contest.
5. A critique partner is not your mamma.
My first beta reader was my husband. I’m not sure if that’s a step up or a step down from getting your mum to do it. To be fair, he was actually pretty good. He gave good critique and, without him, my progress would have been much slower. He was so far from worried about my delicate feelings that we even got into fights when my skin proved too thin for his criticism.
But I needed another writer to look at it. A writer can tell you when your writing’s crappy and not have to worry about you giving them the silent treatment for the rest of the night. And although my husband was great from a story perspective (he could tell me if something needed more humor or if my characters were being inconsistent), he couldn’t point out POV slips.
6. A regular critique partner will help thicken your skin.
When I look at the most successful romance writers, they’re all class acts. You don’t catch them having a public hissy fit when someone doesn’t like their story. We should all aim for such unflinching stoicism. Readers and reviewers, unlike critique partners, aren’t there to nurture our talent. If they buy your book, they have every right to voice their opinion about it publicly, and they aren’t obligated to cushion the blow. Of course, you have the right to respond with anger if you want, but that’s a bit like storming into your boss’s office and shouting him down; It’s a risky choice career wise.
A good critique partner will offer absolute honesty by way of constructive criticism. If you can’t withstand that, how will you withstand less thoughtful criticism offered by angry readers?
(That’s not to say that you should put up with a rude crit partner. Even a well-meaning critique from an incompatible partner can leave you dispondant. If you find yourself lying on the sofa, eating pizza and feeling sorry for yourself after every critique, it may be time to part ways.)
I love my critique partners. Once you find someone you can work with, look after them because a good CP is worth their weight in Chocolate.