Finding the right partner can be fun, enlightening, and even life-changing, but it can also be fraught with disappointments, hurt feelings, and confusion. Um, I’m talking about critique partners. What were you thinking?
I am blessed to have worked with Katherine Hyde for over six years. I knew critiquing was a valuable part of the writing process, but it was scary to think of turning my words over to someone else. And it was just as intimidating to give feedback to someone else about their story. Katherine and I have assembled a few pointers for successful partnerships.
Finding the One Charise: Katherine and I met at a writer’s conference. And actually, I met my other partner at a writer’s conference. So, there’s one thing: you don’t have to have just one (unlike in life partners and then, really, one is plenty unless you want a reality show and legal trouble). You can find a critique partner through conferences, local writing groups, and national associations. I think it’s important to have some mutual understandings of how the process will work. Maybe try a sample first to see if you’re a good match. You are inviting criticism of something precious to you (your story, your words) so you want to be sure your partner will not only be honest, but be honest in a way that leads you to better writing and doesn’t crush you, rewrite you, or delude you that you’re better than you are. Katherine: How do you know you’ve found The One? She gets your writing on a deep level. She loves your writing for itself; she’s not constantly trying to make it over into her own image. She wants the best for you, and that means she’ll be both honest and compassionate. Her critiquing style fits with your style; her strengths and weaknesses complement yours.
Keeping the Romance Alive Charise: I like that my partners and I have a friendship beyond critiquing. I value our rapport beyond the critiques we exchange. And I feel that friendship helps us “get” each other better on a writing level too. Even if you’ve been together for a while, remind your partner of why you appreciate them. We writers can be fragile souls. It helps to hear that our insights are valued. That our attempt at creating something with words is worth it. I also like flowers and chocolate… Katherine: Make sure you both know the rules going in. The rules for how much material you exchange and on what schedule, what depth of critique you want, etc. The rules can be flexible, as long as you work them out together. Always make sure any negative feedback is tempered by something positive. Be reliable–keep to your commitments or let her know why you can’t. And remember, what happens in the critique relationship stays in the critique relationship.
Resolving Differences Charise: As with all relationships, communication is key. I think it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that it is only your opinion (no matter how right it may be) you are giving to your partner. Don’t forget their story is THEIRS, so it is your partner’s prerogative to ignore you. However, before you ignore something, think it over and make sure you’re not being defensive. You need to be open to learning. Katherine: Your relationship should be based on mutual respect, kindness, and remembering you’re on the same team. These will go a long way toward resolving any differences you might face. Try to remember that even though your WIP feels like your baby, or sometimes like your own raw stripped-to-the-bone self, to your readers it’s just a book. It has to work as a book. Your critique partner is there to help you make it work.
As humans we are made for relationships with our true loves, friends, family, and even our pets—as writers we are made to have a critique partner. If you refuse to critique others or have your work critiqued, you will not be romanticized like some George Clooney-esque confirmed bachelor. You will be the lonely hermit that people whisper about. Okay, not really. But the right critique partnership will make you a better writer. And who doesn’t want that?
Questions for the readers: Do you have a critique partner? Do you have more than one? How did you meet? What’s it like for you? Do you have any good tips for successful partnerships?
Post Author: Charise Olson
Charise Olson writes contemporary women’s fiction. She likes to say she writes California Fiction. It’s like Southern Fiction, but without all that humidity. Her characters face serious life situations and cope with humor. Someone always has a smart mouth and Charise claims IM-plausibile deniability as to their origin. Charise is a mom to anyone needing mothering (whether they think they need it or not!) and owns two alpacas. Why alpacas? Because they were cheaper than a lawn mower. The menagerie also includes two dogs and two cats. In addition to her fiction writing and family, Charise has a paycheck career in social services and education.