A Match Made In (Critique) Heaven

If Katherine and I start looking like this, we're going to the spa.

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.

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19 thoughts on “A Match Made In (Critique) Heaven

  1. Although not “official” critique partners, I have two writer friends to whom I send anything substantive that I’m working on before it gets published. Their honest evaluation, encouragement, and needed tweeks are invaluable. Thanks for this great post!

  2. I’m blessed to have two awesome, talented critique partners. I met one when we were both finalists in the Golden Heart contest sponsored by the Romance Writers of America. We formed our partnership when we met in person at the RWA conference a few months later. I met my second critique partner online. I approached her via email with an invitation to consider a critique partnership. To my surprise and delight, she agreed. We went though a trial period, found that we were a fit, and have been CPs since.

  3. I’ve belonged to two critique groups: one nonfiction and one fiction. I was with the nonfiction group from the very beginning and watched it go through several life and death cycles–members coming and going, personality struggles, even disbanding the group at one point because of, well, severe personality problems. Sometimes it happens.
    I was invited to join the fiction group and just recently stepped back from my involvement because of other commitments–and I really miss the feedback. But I have several online friends who are critiquing my work. The most important requirement for any critique relationship is trust–and that takes time to build. Once trust is established, beneficial critique can happen. Once trust is destroyed–through unprofessional criticism–well, sometimes it’s hard to keep a group together.

    • Beth- Katherine and I actually cut the thoughts to do with when a partnership is NOT working. That whole subject deserves its own post. For me, the partnership has to end when that trust you mention is violated.

    • Erin- I hope you find one! Katherine and I started as writer friends meeting for coffee. And then she asked if I would read her novel… And it all just moved along. My other partner and I met and through discussion she asked if I would like to be partners.

      • Erin,
        Occasionally an agent blogger will give commenters the opportunity to connect with each other as critique partners through the blog comments. Mary Kole does this occasionally at kidlit.com, which is how I met my other critique partner. If you have a favorite agent blogger, you might suggest he or she do this sometime.

  4. Yes, it’s so important to have good chemistry with your critique partners. You have to trust their judgement, and they have to trust your voice enough to leave it intact. Good post, Charise.

    • “trust your voice enough to leave it in tact” That is the magic for me, Megan. I have had two other critiques and both tried to turn my literary fiction into something totally different.

  5. It’s hard to find critique partners with the right chemistry. You have to be able to be honest about the writing and sometimes that can get personal, because we all have so much of ourselves invested in what we put on paper.

    Thanks for the article. Good stuff.

  6. For the first time in my life, I’ve begun working with a crit partner. I appreciate her past experience as a magazine editor, and I’m learning so much.

    Thank you for your and Katherine’s wisdom, Charise. It’s just what I need as I strive to become a good crit partner!

  7. My partner and started meeting late last summer after she contacted me. We were both writing articles for the same regional magazine. We discovered we shared similar goals but that our writing is very different from one another’s, which, we think, is good. We discussed the need for honesty and that there was no room for petty jealousies in our partnership.

    I think our partnership has worked because of the respect we each have for each other and each other’s writing. It just clicked. Now we are working through a creative writing textbook together and expanding our craft. It (the partnership) has been one of the most rewarding pieces of my writing life thus far.

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