Critique partners are some of the most important people in the writer’s universe. They influence everything from the way we put our sentences together to the types of stories we choose to write. We trust them to tell us when we've wandered off track and to keep us from public humiliation.
A good critique partner is hard to find, and it’s not uncommon for them to become our best friends. When critiquing works, it’s a magical thing. Perhaps that’s why writers have a tendency to stay in critique relationships long after they’ve stopped being effective.
Every critique group has its ups and downs, but how do you tell the difference between a momentary lull and the end of the road?
I surveyed my writer friends, and they warned me to watch for these signs:
The trust is gone. If you no longer trust your critique partner’s advice, or they no longer heed yours, you might as well call it quits. The relationship is not working.
Your CP slows you down. Ideally, you want a critique partner who writes as much as you do. Exchanges should be balanced, either chapter for chapter or manuscript for manuscript. If you never have time to write because you're always critiquing your partner’s work, that’s a bad relationship.
On the other hand, if you’re waiting to send something to your partner because she hasn’t sent you anything in ages, that’s a problem too. A critique partner should make you more efficient, not bog you down.
They love everything you write and never make suggestions. Over time, critique partners can start to write alike. They follow the same “rules” and intuitively read between the lines. But if you’re drowning in rejection letters, and your critique partner is simply rubber-stamping everything you write, it’s time to move on.
They rewrite entire passages. A good critique partner will occasionally suggest a line or plot twist. If your critique partner rewrites more than a paragraph, she doesn’t respect your voice. Find someone who does.
They argue with your critiques. Don’t expect your CP’s to use every suggestion you make. It’s normal to ask questions and discuss possible changes. But, if they’re offended by your critiques, or say you don’t know what you’re talking about, stop critiquing for them.
You hide good news. Professional jealousy is more common than writers like to admit. An occasional wistful remark is to be expected. But if you avoid mentioning contest wins, editor requests, or sales because you don’t want to deal with the drama, then look for a critique partner who’s genuinely thrilled with your success.
They don’t support your dreams. Unpublished writers get enough skepticism from the the rest of the world. If your critique partner mocks your career plans, they are doing you more harm than good. Advertise for a critique partner who's working toward the same goals.
You’re at different stages of your career. It’s fairly common for an author to lose her longtime critique partners shortly after making her first sale. Usually this is seen as either jealousy or egotism, depending on which side of the problem you’re on. The simple truth is that professional authors working with contract deadlines have different pressures than unpubbeds who write on their own timetable. If it’s not working, try to part on the best of terms. Hopefully, it won’t be long before everyone is sold and back on the same schedule.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Have you ever had to leave a critique partner? How did you know when it was time to go?