Monday, November 5, 2012

What To Expect When You're Expecting a Critique Partner

Okay, let’s start off with a disclaimer. I am not an expert in anything regarding writing, with the exception of being an expert on writing my own novels.  LOL.  I do, however, know a bit about having and being a critique partner, what to look for when choosing one (I have six, I'm like a critique partner hoarder!) and what they should and shouldn’t do while critiquing your precious baby, your novel.

First of all, no writer is an island.  It takes a village to raise a novel. Seriously. Yes, you alone are the all-knowing author, but let’s face it, your novel is your baby, and we all tend to think our babies are simply the most beautiful beings God ever graced the earth with.

Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but you can’t fairly judge your own writing or find all your own typos, and yes, you’re going to have to admit it, and I’m sorry if it hurts, but sometimes your grammar will suck and you just won’t see it. This is where the Critique Partner (i.e. the nanny of  your novel) comes in. She/he can look at your baby objectively and tell you why your baby lost that last beauty contest. But, your critique partner should be able to do this in a way that doesn’t make you stop writing your novel, stop writing forever, or start you plotting...their murder. Also, your critique partner is not God. Her/his ideas, changes, suggestions, corrections, whatever, are NOT the almighty answer to your writing challenges. They are simply his/her opinions and it’s up to you to buck up, read them for what they are worth, and then decide if these suggestions work for your story. 

That was a quick overview, so let me simplify things by offering a few guidelines when a selecting critique partner.

1.  Have more than one critique partner. Some people like to meet with a critique group. Hey, if that works for you, more power to you. Unfortunately for me, I don’t have a group of writers to do this with, so I do critiques on-line with six wonderful women. SIX?  Yes, six. Now, I would recommend having just about two or three, but each of my critique partners are unique in their own critiquing skills and strengths, so I’m loath to give any of them up. So six works for me. Why do I recommend more than one critique partner? Simple: one set of eyes will not find everything wrong with your book, trust me. What if your one critique partner is great finding typos but doesn’t know when your grammar has gone south?  What if your one critique partner is a grammar guru but is weak on judging plot lines, point of view, or style? I have found that by having more than one person critique my novel, each person usually finds something else the others may have missed. For instance:

Critique Partner A:  She is amazing at tightening up my writing. She knows where to cut words.  Also, she’s very good at telling me where I need to add more “heat” into my romantic scenes.

Critique Partner B:  She is awesome with finding point of view errors in my novel, no matter how subtle.  CP-B also finds a lot of little typos that others miss …extra spaces in text, etc.

Critique Partner C:  My newest critique partner and I’m so glad I took her on!  She is a word master!  She finds words that I use incorrectly.  For instance, I had my heroine “procure” a bun to her head. Only CP-C realized that the correct word is “secure” not “procure”.  

Critique Partner D:  She is super knowledgeable about history and what did or did not happen, what people wore or did not wear, said or didn’t say, at just about any given time period in history.  She’s like my own private researcher. She is also constantly on my case about choosing stronger and more unique verbs and descriptive words. 

Critique Partners E and F:  They are really good for my ego. LOL. They are my cheerleading squad and seem to adore everything I write. But they do also find errors in my work and so when these two don’t like something, I fix it.

2.  Your Critique Partner is Not God.  Just because a critique partner suggests you change “the floor was dirty” to “the dirty floor” doesn’t mean you have to. However, (and this is where I find having more than one critique partner helpful), if more than one of your critique partners suggest the same change, change it. Let’s say Critique Partner A suggests a change that I don’t agree with and none of the other partners find anything wrong with that particular prose. I won’t make the change. If however, CPs B and C would suggest that change along with Partner A, whether or not I disagree with them, I will make the change. Three people have found something wrong with that sentence. That screams “CHANGE IT.” And I do. And so should you.

2.  Which leads us to, the actual critique. My strongest advice to you, when receiving a critique back, is to make sure you’ve inserted your spine. Be prepared to hear that your baby is not quite as pretty as you imagined, and you need to do a little mothering.  Believe me, I have sent chapters to my critique partners thinking it was the most brilliant, perfectly written piece of prose even know to man, only to have them send it back with highlighted typos, weak verbs, etc. the list goes on.  Do not get mad at your critique partners for their suggestions; this is what you’re paying them the big bucks (LOL) for.

3.  There is no crying in Critique-ball.  Seriously. A returned critique should not be so harsh it makes you cry, nor should your critique of someone else’s work be so harsh, you make them cry. Nor should a critique make you feel like you’re a horrible writer and dear God, whatever were you thinking taking pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. If a critique makes you feel like you want to destroy your work and never write again, your critique partner is a horrid critique partner and it’s time to tell them, in the immortal words of Justin Timberlake, “Baby, bye, bye, bye”. 

2. If a critique partner only glorifies your work and never finds ANYTHING for you to fix, they’re not doing you any good, either.  Something will need to be fixed. If your critique partner never suggests anything for you to think about or change, they’re not doing their homework and you’re paying them (LOL) way too much.  Again, you may have to tell this critique partner “bye-bye”.

3.  A good critique partner explains their suggestions, they just don’t fix or change your writing. If someone is simply rewriting your prose, and you’re not understanding why, you aren’t learning anything from critiques and not advancing as a writer. If a suggestion from your critique partner confuses you, ask them about it! But don’t WHINE about it. There’s a big difference there.  

4. A good critique partner gives you positive encouragement along with pointing out your errors. Not only should they suggest ways to improve your work, they should also tell you what is good about your work. If you’re only get negative feedback from a critique partner, they are doing you a disservice.

5.  Critique partners should not try to change your plot. This is your story, and no one has the right to tell you how the plot should go. They may ask you to change a character somehow, or maybe change a setting to somewhere that works better, but the basic plot and theme are yours.  If someone wants to completely change your story, then it no longer becomes your story, it becomes theirs. Stick to your guns, or tell that critique partner, bye-bye.

6. Learn from and share your knowledge with your other critique partners!  I have learned so much from my wise and talented critique partners. Through them, I believe my writing improves with each critique. I take to heart their knowledge and try to use it in my own critiques so that my other writing friends benefit as well.  Remember, it takes a village!

I hope I’ve given you some good guidelines to follow for finding a good, supportive critique partner and for writing supportive critiques yourself.  Again, I’m no expert, I just know what works for me, and by sharing this information, I hope someone will benefit and sell that book!

Best wishes on your writing journey!

Coming soon:  "A Day in the Life"...Remembering A Friend. 


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