Critique Partners

Some writers swear they never use them. Some swear they couldn’t get a thing done without them.

Critique partners. Crit partners. CPs. Let’s talk.

Google the unabbreviated “critique partner” and you’ll see a confusing list of definitions, and places to find fellow writers eager to pair up with a crit partner.

In my eyes, and those of the folks I most frequently work with, a crit partner is usually a two-way relationship that involves mutual sharing between fellow writers. Beta readers are a totally different lot, and they deserve all the praise and thanks in the world, but a good crit partner is a match made in heaven. A bad one… well… you can imagine the opposite.

Just like any relationship, the terms of what makes for a good crit partnership are not set in stone. Each writer has their own needs and preferred ways of working.

BEFORE YOU SEEK OUT A CRIT PARTNER

  • Are you ready for critique?
    If you think your manuscript is well polished and shiny and ready to go, and your crit partner disagrees, how are you going to handle their opinion?
    If you know you’re in the rough stages, and your crit partner suggests something isn’t working, can you step back and view your baby through their eyes?
  • What do you want from a crit partner?
    Are you looking for developmental edit work? Finding and fixing plot holes? Do you want a line-by-line critique, or just a general idea of how things flow and feel? Want input on what works and what doesn’t?
    All of these things are great, but it’s a good idea to communicate what you’re hoping for.

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT A POTENTIAL CRIT PARTNER

  • Are they familiar with your genre, and do they like it?
    It’s not going to help quite as much to have a crit partner who loves cozy mysteries reading your erotic thriller. Think about that for a minute.
  • Do you respect their opinion and/or work?
    This is a tough one. I can take advice from someone whose work I don’t care for, if I can recognize their expertise. Make sure you look for crit partners whose opinions you value for some reason beyond your personal relationship.
  • What do you each want from the partnership?
    If your partner thinks this is a mutual exchange and you go in thinking it’s a one-way street, you’re going to clash pretty quickly. Talk before you trade and make sure you’re both on the same page about what you do and don’t want from your crit partner.
  • What level of honesty do you want, and can you offer?
    Some folks need their critique coated in sugar, and that’s fine. Others take it straight up, thank you very much.
  • How do they want their notes? How do you want your notes?
    Not everyone uses the same software, and not everyone is familiar with “track changes” features, or comfortable following comments. Which method works for you, and is your crit partner willing to give notes that way? And vice versa.

GETTING AND GIVING (critiques, that is)

  • Critiques are opinions.
    Sure, sometimes it’s a factual matter, but really, this is one person’s opinion. You don’t have to agree on everything, but be respectful about it. The same is true whether you are getting or giving a critique. This is an opinion.
  • Be nice.
    Whether you’re giving critique, or receiving one, be nice. Even if your crit partner isn’t. Why? Just because it’s the nice thing to do and there’s enough ugliness in the world. (I’ll waive this in the instance of someone being harmful.)

WHEN THINGS AREN’T GOING WELL

Sometimes it happens. You find a crit partner, and only after getting started realize this isn’t a good partnership. Or maybe you’ve changed genre or writing style. Or they’ve changed. Or… whatever. Life happens.

Reasons don’t really matter when it comes to a break up. Be respectful, be courteous, be kind and above all, be brief.

If there are problems that you believe are fixable, talk to your crit partner about them. It may be a simple misunderstanding of expectations. If you don’t believe they’re fixable, then it’s time to move on, nicely.

A simple, “I don’t feel our crit partnership is working out” or “I’m going to have to back out of our crit partnership” is all it takes.

BOTTOM LINE

Back to my statement that writing is a business: treat working with a crit partner as you would any professional collaboration. It’s all about communication.

And where do you find these magical beings?

Well… my answer today would be very different from my answer a year ago. And that’s why I’m not going to give a bunch of links—nothing is more frustrating than finding a potentially cool group only for it to be defunct.

Look to your groups—do you do NaNoWriMo? Are you in a writer’s group? Are you applying for, or in, a mentoring program? Anywhere groups of writers gather, virtually or IRL, and talk craft.

That’s where you’ll find your people.

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