I am a lone wolf.
I am solitary.
I have spent my days within my own mind, capturing the essence of worlds I can’t live without.
I have written all the words, spent my time paring them down to perfection until the world glitters like a million stars and the characters shine in their brilliance. I have walked up hill, both ways, in the snow, without shoes.
I am the tiger.
Hear me roar.
We’ve talked about this before, but I want to reiterate. Being an author doesn’t mean being alone. There are people out there who care just as much about your rough drafts as you do. When you’re starting out, there are critique partners and beta readers. As you progress there are agents and editors, until finally there are readers who will adore the book as much as you did when you were writing it.
For today’s post, I want to focus on critique partnering, and here’s why: critique partners are one of the most important parts of writing.
When I started, I joined a local writer’s group. They were older people and none of them were terribly interested in YA, but they accepted me since we live in a small area and there weren’t many places for me to go to get the support that I needed if I was going to turn this into a career. For those of you who don’t know me on a personal level, I’m very shy. I don’t talk much unless I’m familiar with you and comfortable. It stems from fifth grade when the group of friends I hung out with chose the new girl over me, deciding that I wasn’t cool enough. There were harsh words said, back stabbing as people pretended to be my friend and then bullied me, and many shed tears as I pleaded with my mother not to send me back to school with those awful people.
I am closely guarded and struggle to let people in. It made me a loner during my high school years and the only reason I had friends is because my band director basically told me to try out for drum major as a freshman or I would fail band. When I entered the writer’s group, I knew that there would be critiques, but I also had the impression that they would be helpful.
I was not prepared for what I received.
My very first critique was awful. The woman questioned why I started writing in the first place. She informed me that I was at a grade school level with my writing and would never be anything more than an amateur. She tore apart every single line of my very first manuscript then laughed about it at the next meeting.
I quit writing. For several years I kept a journal of ideas, but did nothing with them. It took my husband, a local LDS writer, Kerry Blair, who has known me since I was fourteen and my grandma to coax me back out of my shell and back into the world. I also had to learn that I didn’t care what others thought and that not everyone would be as harmful as this particular woman had been.
I came across a post from a friend, recently, complaining about receiving a similar critique and how she never wanted to write again. I let out a deep sigh. Why would someone do something so harmful to someone else’s dream?
Critique partners are meant to be helpful. They are supposed to give us direction and point out the things that we can’t see ourselves. Sometimes they help us bounce ideas. They may even become friends that we care deeply about and root for just as much as they root for us. So, I have prepared my 10 Commandments for Critique Partnering for both critiquers and critiquee’s.
1.) Thou art not God’s gift to writing.
There is nothing more irritating than arrogance. When someone sends you their critique, it’s because there are things they can’t see because they are too close to the story. It doesn’t mean they want you to act superior and tell them how stupid they are. You are there to support them and help them grow. Offer them helpful advice. At the same time, critiquee’s, don’t expect your cp to know everything there is to know about writing. They’re going to miss stuff. They’re human.
2.) Thou shalt not steal they partner’s work.
Being a critique partner is a great privilege. This author is trusting you with their baby, trusting that you won’t abuse that relationship and trusting that you won’t leak their precious words out to the world. I once read that Stephenie Meyer had another version of Twilightwritten from Edward’s perspective, but that someone leaked it and now she’ll never release it. And while this may be the end of the world for some people, it reiterates my point. Don’t do this to your author friends people. It’s just not nice.
3.) Thou shalt tell others as thou would have told to them.
This works two fold. 1. If you ask someone to critique for you, expect to give them a critique back. It’s common courtesy. We all live in the sandbox. Play nicely. 2. Don’t be mean. Critiques are meant to offer helpful feedback, to praise when necessary and to offer advice when necessary. Question your partners on how they handle their critiques. Make sure they know how you critique, what you look for and what to expect. Keep an open line of communication.
4.) Thou art not the author of thy critique partners work.
You’ve been there. You were there when the idea was born. You spent hours babysitting and bouncing ideas. You watched it crawl, then walk and finally run. You were there when it was a monster and there when perfection flowed. That doesn’t give you the write to turn it into your work. Don’t try to turn the voice into your own. Don’t add ideas that aren’t necessary. You may have been there as a shoulder to lean on, but you aren’t the author.
5.) Thou shalt give an appropriate time frame and stick to it.
I am guilty of this one, and recently. I had my own edits from my agent, and then #Nestpitch popped up, which I’d forgotten about, the Rosemary Contest for YARWA and then a couple of critiques. One got pushed by the wayside. Try not to do this. When someone asks you to give them a critique, give them a time frame of when you expect to be done. Life happens, and sometimes you can’t stick to the frame. It’s cool. Just let the other person know. Critiquee’s, ask for a time frame when you send your work. Again, communication is key.
6.) Thou shalt not overextend thyself.
Do you really need more than one critique partner? Yes. Like, a zillion times yes. I’ve heard that if at least three people are noticing the same problem, it’s time to fix it. Does that mean you need to partner with every person you meet and every person who asks? No. Know your limits. Don’t take on so many cp’s that you’re knee deep in crits without the ability to see the light of day and you can’t get back to your own work. Find a number that works for you and stick to it.
7.) Thou shalt not be negative all the time.
Does the manuscript need work? Of course. They always do when they go to a cp. That’s why they’re with a cp. Does that mean that everything you point out needs to be a flaw? Nope. Point out what’s great along with what needs work. It’s easy to tear people down. It’s harder to build people up. Try to balance both.
8.) Thou shalt remember thy manners.
Take your critique with a little bit of grace and humility. Thank your partner for taking their time. Tell them you appreciate what they’ve said. Do you have to agree with all of it? Of course not. A lot of it is just personal opinion and you may not agree with what they’ve said. Most cp’s just want to help in the only ways they know how. Be grateful they took the time to do it.
9.) Thou shalt keep an open mind.
Again, everything your cp says is their opinion and you don’t have to keep anything you don’t want too, but you did ask them for a reason. Look for trends between cp’s and betas. If they’re noticing similar things, then they are something to look out for. Keep in mind who is reading for you. Someone writing in the genre you write in is probably going to hold more weight than someone in an unfamiliar genre. Don’t go into your critique thinking you’re awful and taking everything said as a personal hit.
10.) Thou shalt back up thy work and grow as a writer.
So you’ve decided to take everything that was said to heart and do a complete rewrite. That’s your choice, but make sure to back up the original. You may start writing and hate the rewrite and want to go back to the original. It isn’t going anywhere while you rewrite and it may be something you’ll need to look back on as you write. Take the advice and grow. Do the research, learn the writing rules you’re struggling with. Don’t expect your cp to point out every flaw. Read books on craft. Work on improving yourself and your knowledge.
Remember, wolves often travel in packs. Some of your critique partners may become friends, even best friends. One of my critiques partners has become basically a sister to me, and she acknowledged me in the dedication of her book, The Snow Rose Series: Unbearable. Don’t expect all to be. Sometimes you need critiques from people who aren’t invested in your writing like a best friend. Other times you need someone to pull you off the ledge when you feel like your writing will never get past critiquing. Whatever you do, treat your cp’s and beta’s the same way you’d like to be treated yourself. Grace and humility go a long way.
Have any advice on cp etiquette? Leave it in the comments below.