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.
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.
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.