Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What Makes the Perfect Critique Partner

I have some of the best critique partners in the whole world. I'm really sorry if you think your critique partners are the best in the whole world, because they're not. Mine are.

At least, they're the best for me.

And that's really the quest, isn't it? To find the very best partner for you. So how do you go about doing it? And how do you know when you've found it?

I don't know.

Much like falling in love, finding the perfect CP is a lot about how well you two mesh together, how well you "get" each other, and that undefinable je ne sais quoi. But here are some tips to help you get started, and hopefully avoid some of the worst pitfalls.

The perfect CP communicates the same way you do. 
If you're a twitter junkie and this prospective CP thinks twitter is for the birds (see what I did there? Eh???), you might be a poor match. If this prospective CP wants to Skype everyday and that bugs the crap out of you, you might be a poor match. You're going to be communicating with each other. A LOT. It should be comfortable for both of you.

(to be honest, though - my best CPs have become my friends and we tweet, facebook, email, gchat, skype, text, and visit in person. so.)

The perfect CP understands your genre AND category. 
You definitely do not want someone leaving six comments on every page saying, "This is too complicated, simplify it!" if your writing actually is quite clear. But if you write adult literary fiction and your CP writes MG science fiction... you're going to have this problem.

You don't have to write the same genre and category as your CP, but you need to understand each other's work. One of my favorite CPs writes YA fantasy. I don't write YA, but I read A LOT of it (in addition to the adult fantasy I read, of course), so I feel capable of giving her useful feedback.

The perfect CP needs the same amount of help you do. 
If you need help brainstorming ideas, structuring your story, building character arcs, understanding grammar, pacing, resolving conflicts, and layering metaphors, but your CP only needs someone to proofread their copy... you're not a good match. She's your mentor, not your partner.

Partners are equal, or at least semi-equal. One of you should not be pulling the other along through the marshes of this crazy world we call writing, you should be helping each other. If one of you is pulling the other, it's a mentorship. If you have one of those, be grateful for it and be on the lookout to be a mentor to someone else when the time comes.

The perfect CP does not need help with the same things as you. 
This would be like the blind leading the blind.

The perfect CP gets your style. 
Personal story (because the rest of this post has been so impersonal, you know): I once traded manuscripts with someone who tore my book to shreds. She changed every verb, crossed out and re-worded literally every sentence, questioned my characters, ridiculed my focus, said, "You've written a character-driven story, and I really think it needs to be a milieu-based story instead."

Guess what?

I didn't make any of those changes.

She didn't get me or my book. She wanted a different book, she wanted something that I wasn't writing, and she wasn't willing to see past her own preferences to see what I was doing. And that's totally okay. She's a perfectly good writer and she's the right partner for somebody. Somebody else. 

So there you have it. Five tips to help you identify the perfect CP. I found mine on twitter, you can find them through writing groups (like ANWA *shameless plug*), or you can check out this excellent site, CPSeek.com , where I also found two of my favorite CPs.

Go forth and find your match.

12 comments:

  1. Great post. We all could use a well matched CP.

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  2. Britney GulbrandsenDecember 3, 2013 at 11:50 AM

    Great post! I really need to find myself a good CP. But first, I need to get on a consistent writing routine so I'm not dragging him/her down!

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  3. What's funny is having a CP is what made me a more regular writer. Once I knew people were waiting on my stuff, or when I knew I'd need to give them something "finished" to read in order to swap and prove myself to them, I wrote faster and more consistently.

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  4. I have four, and I highly recommend having a circle of them. They may not all be available every time you need help, and it's good to have different opinions, even in the alpha stages.

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  5. So, is finding a CP and writing group sort of the same thing? Or do you think of them as separate? Is your writing group also your CPs? I'm thinking if I'm going to really give this writing thing a shot, this is the next step for me....find people!

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  6. They *can* be the same thing, but not necessarily. I joined ANWA (a writing group for LDS women) in search of camaraderie. We do critique each other's work, and there are writing-focused lessons at our meetings, and we support each other. I could easily rely on them to be my critique partners, they are quite brilliant, and I know some people *do* use their writing group as critique partners (Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells were part of the same critique group, and if you read the acknowledgements of a semi-established author, you'll often find other authors listed there; they are usually in a writing group together).

    However, you can have CPs separate from a writing group, which is what I do. And that's just because my writing group is assigned geographically (we are one chapter in a huge, national group), so we don't all write the same stuff. I found my CPs through CP Seek, and I was reminded of the tumblr blog: http://t.co/n0XAS4MojG "How about we CP" - sort of a non-skeevy Craig's List-style blog for people who are seeking for a CP.



    If you have more questions, you can always email me. I have lots of opinions about this :)

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  7. I love how you always manage to write exactly what I need to hear. Your brain is my favorite.

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  8. Thanks so much for all your awesome suggestions! :)

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  9. This is awesome, Gina. I just reached an end point on my manuscript and I will soon be ready for some feedback, so I will definitely take these points into consideration!

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  10. My brain exists to make you happy. Or something like that.

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  11. I highly recommend using CPSeek.com! I found two excellent CPs on there (and one... that didn't work out... let's leave it at that). But still, two out of three ain't bad! ;)

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  12. Very helpful. Kind of like having an accountability partner.

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