Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ten Ways to Find/Be the Perfect Critique Partner

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Finding and being the perfect critique partner is, I dare say, the most valuable tool a writer could have.

Of course words, inspiration, time, etc. are all important too, but without THE right critique partner, everything else could be wasted.

In my great search for a critique partner, I came to the conclusion that the whole matter was God's idea. He didn't create us to be alone. And knowing we would be tempted to squirrel away our time, sitting at a desk ferociously pounding out words on our laptop to the perfect background music, He allowed one mistake after another in our manuscript, just so we'd have to (gasp) ask for help.

The mistakes came in droves for me. The more I learned, the more I realized I needed a crit partner. A one-on-one CPR certified partner for my manuscript.

I read articles on finding crit partners, sorta-kinda let people know I really wanted one. Followed the instructions for joining groups and waited for the magic to happen. It didn't.

After getting tired of the chase I voiced my dilemma to someone in charge. Are you ready for her answer? Go ahead and prepare to cringe, wince, and/or chuckle. She said, "Did you ask the loop?"

Of course I hadn't. I was a card carrying hermit. It took two days to compose the three sentenced email before I closed my eyes, prayed, and pushed send.

The next day. Yeah. The next day, someone responded. She, too, had problems finding the right critique partner. Our first emails showed our tentative spirits walking on ice, afraid to offend. But the more we subbed to each other, and the more we shared about our personal lives, the more we saw we really were the perfect critique partners.

Here are ten ways to know you have/are the perfect critique partner:

1.  Enjoy the genre of the writing - My experience has shown, if the person reading the work doesn't enjoy the genre she will have a difficult time diving into the story. Even if the writing is wonderful, there will be a component missing that will trip the critique person and cause them to find issues that aren't really there. My critique partner writes contemporary Biblical stories, which I love to read. I write YA adventure, which she loves to read. .

2.  Don't hold back - In our first submissions to each other, my critique partner and I agreed to not hold back our thoughts. This meant we gave constructive criticism and compliments freely. We did not give each other permission to be petty or to impose our own writing style on each other's voice. If a comment rode the fence in this category, we premised our words with "Consider..." This seemed to work well. We have continued this process.

3. Lavish compliments - Better is a well worded compliment than a criticism. I knew a person who believed compliments only made people big headed and stifled growth. To say someone does something good is to direct their efforts to do more. Take time to lavish compliments. Point out all the good parts. Your positive words will help her to write more, take chances, experiment with ideas, and possibly write the next great novel! Okay, that was a bit grandiose, but someone has to write it!

4. Apply what you see in the other person's work to your own manuscripts Sometimes I have to laugh at the ridiculous errors my crit partner finds. I look at them and am convinced some elf hopped into my computer and changed the document after I sent it. The truth is, we're blind to our own errors but can see the same issues in our partner's manuscript. One day I saw the word "it" like a chicken pox outbreak on her page. The next day I read through my previous chapter and saw the "it" pox dotting my page. Good grief. I fixed them before subbing the chapter.

5. My crit partner and I have helped each other learn more of the writing craft. We each study our own areas of weakness and interest. When we see an issue in the other's manuscript we supply a link to help the other understand the concept. What link did she send me last...sigh...the lay/lie one. I'm not sure I'll every get that one right.

6. A great component of a crit partnership is having a kindred spirit. We didn't know we'd have this benefit for several communications. The more we worked together, the more we discovered similar interests. We prayed for each other and modified submission schedules when the other had a need. Like any friendship, this component tends to blossom over time. 

7. Cheerleader. Beyond giving compliments and having a kindred spirit, we depend on each other for encouragement. To cheer each other's works toward success. To be there with a cyber tissue when rejections come and proclaim from the mountaintop every success. We've told our families about each other and even consulted our family to insure as much accuracy in the manuscripts as possible. 

8. Time. This is the cost of a critique partner. A labor of love. One that is reciprocated. A true critique partner will not scan a work. She will read through the submission with an eagle eye, with the goal to encourage and lift up the work to the best of her ability. No--hours are not required. But fifteen to thirty minutes per chapter is, depending on the need.

9. Brainstorm. Stuck in a scene? Can't find the right words, analogy, twist? God has given you a partner. A second mind to rummage through for ideas. The benefit of the partner is the ping pong effect. One suggests an idea, the other bounces back an added development of the idea, back and forth it goes until the idea is refined and the Ah-hah outcome. 

10. Marketing. Who better to champion the success of your completed work? What better candidate deserves to be on your dedication/acknowledgement page? Perhaps your partner has gifts in marketing and can give ideas. Perhaps she doesn't have the ideas but is willing to help in other ways. Wouldn't it be fun to help your critique partner succeed in marketing sales? What ways could you be a help to her?

Being a perfect critique partner does not mean the critiques are perfect. It simply means you and your partner are perfect to help each other. 

Did you know C.S. Lewis was a crit partner for J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings
Did you also know J.R.R. Tolkien was a crit partner for C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia?
And Jane Austen's critique partner/editor was her sister Cassandra.

Your turn: 
1. What other components are important for a critique partner?
2. What other fantastic components have you seen in your critique partner?
3. Do you need a critique partner? Let's see if we can find you a match here.


If you found any typos in today's post...Mary Vee, (that's me sheepishly grinning), is waving her hand as the guilty party. 

If you have questions or would like this topic discussed in greater detail, let me know in the comment section. I'll gladly do the research and write a post...just for you :)

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes young adult adventure Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Finding a crit partner is the most difficult thing in writing, I think. I struggled with that. I was in a couple of crit groups that just didn't work. I did finally find someone who was perfect for me...sigh...and then we both set aside writing for awhile. (I miss you, Casey!) Great post, Mary!

Unknown said...

It's been my biggest struggle. I have so little time that I always feel guilty in taking on a partner. But I know I need one, especially now that I've put my writing career into high gear. I write YA and MG, contemporary with a supernatural flavor. I'm hoping to find a partner who can spend an hour a week on my work and vice versa.

She, too, had problems find the right critique partner. (Way to go Mary)

Casey said...

#4 is great. And so very true. Finding a good critique partner is truly a great thing.

kaybee said...

Good post, Mary. I have had the same crit partner on and off for 20 years (the "off" was when I wasn't writing). We met in a larger group which spun off into a romance subgroup which spun off to us. She moved across the country in July, but with the wonders of technology, we're still working together. She isn't writing now and I am, but when the dust settles from her move, we'll be back at it.
I've found it useful to be with someone who understands your genre. Last apring someone said m WIP was "boring" and "poredictable" because it had a man and a woman meet and become attracted to each other. It's a romance, hello.
I also find it helpful to stick with a critique partner. Right now my WIP is a sequel to the book I'm shopping around, and while I do my best to make it stand on its own, it's helpful to have someone reading the drafts who isn't confused. My crit partner is also well-versed on structure and me, not so much, so she's always pointing me back to the three-act structure etc. it really is "iron sharpening iron."
Kathy Bailey

Emily Conrad said...

Writing is not a solo endeavor. I've learned that by going too long without getting (at least) a second pair of eyes on a manuscript and then finding out once I finally did share it that there were problems. Thankfully, my crit partner (you know who you are :) ) will point those things out with lots of encouragement along the way. Oh, and the brainstorming point is a good one, too. My crit partner recently rescued me from a plot issue that had me stuck for a week.

Mary Vee Writer said...

A sabbatical doesn't mean you've lost your crit partner. Kathy wrote in her comment below about an on again and off again partnership.
As for me, I was concerned when my partner and I finished the last chapter of our respective books. Would this fairy tale crit partnership end? I really hoped not.
I hated to ask her, knowing she could say, well, we finished our books...see yah. But she didn't. We encouraged each other to keep plotting along-to come up with a new idea. And if necessary we promised to patiently wait for the ideas to come then get back to work.
I sighed relief...because it had taken so long to find the right crit partner.
God not only can bless....He will. :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

I am starting a running list we all can refer to.

So far I see these commenters above interested in finding a crit partner:

Ron Estrada-YA and MG, contemporary with a supernatural flavor

I'll keep adding to this list throughout the day. Be sure to check back-you may find your partner today!

Mary Vee Writer said...

You shared a lot of wisdom. The point I especially appreciate is sticking with the same crit partner. There will be ups and downs like in any partnership, but sticking it out will prove to be a winning effort. Thanks so much for stopping by, Kathy.

Unknown said...

Two words: Lindsay. Harrel.

:) Lindsay and I call ourselves craft partners. We haven't traded work as often lately mostly due to my recent penchant for writing up until the very last minute of a deadline, which doesn't give Lindsay much chance to give feedback. But instead, she helps me along the way by brainstorming plot issues when I'm stuck, holding me accountable when I need to hit word counts and goals, prays for me, texts me, cheers me up when I'm struggling in the story, reminds me of important truths when I'm all "whhhhyyy am I doing this?". We also brainstorm and help each other plot out our stories--that front end work is invaluable.

One really important thing we did was make sure our expectations were in line...we gave ourselves a bit of a trial period in the beginning to make sure the whole CP thing wouldn't affect our friendship. Having set expectations is important!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Your words speak truth. We often are so excited about connecting with a crit partner, that we forget there must be a trial period. This is not the time to walk on ice, but to reveal your whole self. It is a time to set up expectations, needs, hopes, desires... Go ahead and spill it out. Then with prayer, give it a go.

There will be times when the partnership will morph into craft partners, or support partners, or whatever is needed at the time. A true partnership can ride the winds of time.

Thanks for you advice and thoughts, Melissa!

Amanda Barratt said...

What a timely post! I have been spending a ton of time in prayer on this very issue! I write historical romance and have two novellas releasing from Barbour in 2015. And although I’ve traded work back and forth with a couple of people, I would really like a critique/craft partnership that included brainstorming each other’s plots, going through a craft book together now and then, plus giving feedback on each other’s stories. I spoke to several people at the ACFW conference about this, but no one really knew of anyone. Since I write romance, I’d like someone who wrote some sort of romance (historical, contemporary, or romantic suspense) and it would be great if we were at about the same level of writing experience, so we can further grow and stretch each other. I would even be willing to work with more than one person, if someone would like another member in their group.

Totally agree with Melissa, that doing a trial basis on these sort of things is best, so no one feels locked into anything.

Thank you SO much for your wonderful post, Mary!! :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

Hi Amanda!
I am adding your name to the list! There could be no greater blessing than if someone found their crit partner today!

Also, as a suggestion, you might be amazed that a writer with less or more writing experience could be a huge help. What I find is that we all tend to learn different things at different times. So the person who might have less knowledge might actually have more of what you need. Then again if you connect with a person who has more, you probably have the very insight that person needs. Blessings abound from all levels. To me, the key is the heart.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Update list of those wanting to find a crit partner:

Ron Estrada-YA and MG, contemporary with a supernatural flavor

Amanda Barratt-romance

Amy Drown said...

Amanda, I may have a group who could help you! Between us, we write historical romance, contemporary romance, and romantic suspense, with some Biblical, YA, speculative and women's fiction thrown in for fun. Shoot me an email and let's talk! amy(at)amydrown(dot)com :-)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Number 6 is a biggie for me. If you plan on working with someone on something so close to your heart, and especially if you want to establish trust and accountability, it's important to establish a friendship. It's to easy to get jaded with constant critisizm, which is where friendship, sensitivity, and speaking the truth in love comes in. With heafty doses of encouragement, of course. :) So glad I found this is Pepper Basham. An amazing writer, crit partner, and most importantly, friend. I always know my babies are in good hands with her. Great post, Mare!

Mary Vee Writer said...

So true, Ames.

And it seems to me quite remarkable how quick the kindred spirit is detected. It's like discovering the friend you always had.
Too, you have a great key point about speaking the truth in love. When the friendship is developed, the love is detected in the truth. Our sensitive feelings take the appropriate back seat and we can see the help being given.

Good words, Ames :)

Pepper Basham said...

Sorry I'm late to this but your post was FANTASTIC!! I love the 'give generously' especially with compliments. As writers we are quick to latch onto criticism and we need those extra boosts of 'good stuff' to keep us somewhat balanced.
Amy is GREAT about that - and she usually dishes out her criticism with a lot of sugar ;-)