Saturday, June 11, 2011

8 Signs You Need a New Critique Partner

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?


Terry Spear said...

Super great post, Clarissa. Yes I've gone through a lot of critique partners over the years, until some years back, a group of us formed the Rebel Romance Writers. We all have different writing genres, some hotter, some more chick littish, but together we are a support group as well as help each other to fine tune our writing. It's wonderful when you can develop that kind of a group. For the first time ever, I met two of them at the Florida conference and we had so much fun. :)

Judith Keim said...

I've just found a new critique partner I'm thrilled to have. She's talented, honest and quick to respond. And I can't wait to continue with her! Thanks, Clarissa!

Patricia said...

I'm not in a critique group but these are very savvy suggestions. Thank you.

Kathleen Bittner Roth said...

I stumbled onto some great crit partners through HHRW two years ago and I don't know what I'd do without them. Some come and some go, but there are those who are tried and true. We root each other on, are brutally, but diplomatically honest and we grow at our own speed. Love it...Love them!

Donna Cummings said...

I don't have a critique partner right now, but I've been thinking about looking for one. These are great suggestions I can keep in mind during the search. Thanks for sharing them. :)

Gwynlyn said...

I'm blessed in my critique partner. In fact, I don't call her my Critique Partner, I call her my Cattle Prod. We argue, often loudly, and sometimes agree to disagree, but we respect each other. Our strengths balance and have rubbed off to benefit each of us over the years.

Excellent points, Clarissa. I'm a firm believer in "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," but people and cirucumstances change. I'm glad my CP has also become one of my dearest friends; no matter where this journey takes us, we're good.

Peggy said...

Great blog. Good crit partners are the most valuable asset a writer can have.

Lena Diaz said...

This blog rings so true for me! I've been in three critique groups so far. The first one didn't meet often enough. We're still great friends, but I needed more input and help. The second one was fantastic - very supportive writers who turned into good friends - until it all ended badly. I had outgrown the critique group and when I quit, I lost two friends who have never forgiven me for quitting. I still don't get it. I really don't. If you are ever in a critique group, be supportive and understanding and don't take it personally when someone quits! After that group, I didn't want to be in a critique group again. Instead, I and two friends plot together, we brainstorm, and on rare occasions actually critique. We call each other critique partners, but it's definitely not a traditional critique group. We have tons of freedom, no weekly meetings, and only meet as needed. Sometimes that's twice in a month. Sometimes it's once in six months. Works great for me. And we've all made a pact. Since this is a business, we will NOT take it personally if any of us decide to quit in the future. We will remain friends. We know it's all about the writing, folks. If you critique group has become a social club - maybe you should join a different critique group and then just keep those other folks as friends. Thanks for the blog, Clarissa!

Jill James said...

I've had the same CP for like 8 years now. We are best friends so we only meet to critique once a week. Our styles and voice are so different that critting each other really works.

Sheila Tenold said...

Great post, Clarissa! I found a good CP last year through the RWA PRO loop. After reading your 'warning signs' I'm more positive that I've found a great fit.

I'm keeping your list for the future. Thank you.

Denise Pattison said...

I haven't had any luck with critique groups. One woman starting ranting about a pet peeve but never bothered to actually critique.

Another group--I was the only one offering chapters up for critique and only one person was bothering to critique, that group fell apart.

After a few other failures, one because I was told to suspend my disbelief...well, I'm not into critique groups very much. But I love your post and will keep it in mind if I ever do find a good critique person or group.

Liz Lipperman said...

This comes at a really appropriate time for me. I parted ways with my crit partner of 8 years when I sold. For some unexplained reason, I became more insecure with a contract than before. When I sent her the first 5 chapters of Book 2, she said she knew I would want to rewrite them so she wasn't going to critique them just yet (We line edit and these chapters were already critiqued by two others who didn't feel this way.) Then when I told her I was not going to send her any more stuff for a while (blamed my insecurities) she said my head had gotten too big with the sale and it was her job as a CP to knock me down a notch or two.

No, that's not her job. I do enough of that myself. Fortunately, there was a third CP who gels with me so nicely I hardly miss her.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I am totally blessed with my critique partner. In fact, I love her as a daughter. She is published, I am not. She has won two Golden Hearts and on her first novel was up for two RITA awards. Can you guess how proud I am of her.

The sun, the angels and all the writing gods were looking over me the day she walked into my life. I am a writer who can win an occasional award now because of her. She has turned me into a writer and I listen to her when she speaks. It is one of my pleasures to go back to where I was 'yesterday' and see where I am today and know it is because she never gave up on me. :) I am not a jealous type personality so take great pleasure in my friends when they get published and am thrilled to be able to ride on their coattails until I have tails of my own. I've had other great people in my life and the past couple of years have had another CP come along who is also integral in my writing.

The answer is YES, I have had great experiences with CPs. :)


Tracy Brogan said...

Wonderful post as usual, Clarissa! And so true. I connected with some talented people at my first writers conference, and although we are great at plotting together, I realized quickly that they felt my genre was not as 'valid' as theirs. Now I'm blessed with two wonderful partners and I can't imagine what this past year would have been like without their insight and support.

Denise said...

Thanks for sharing this. This info is always great to know!

Clarissa Southwick said...

Thank you all for the wonderful comments. I had to go out of town unexpectedly, so I wasn't able to respond in good time to all of your comments. But I really appreciate them. You've all made me think a little bit more about what it takes to be a critique partner and a friend. Thank you !

Jodie said...

Very interesting. I used to get things like "No need to scroll down. It's perfect." from one of my CPs. I think that's #3 on your list, right?

What do you think is the most professional way to leave a group? Tell everyone why you're leaving or just vanish without a word?

Dawn Marie Hamilron said...

Hi, Clarissa. Good advice. I'm in an online crit group where members come and go. So far, that is working for me.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Clarissa,

I saw your blog notice on the Clues and News Loop. Critique partners are, in my experience, liquid gold or the plague. The best critique groups or partners do all the right things to support you and grow your story. The worst group or partner makes you sick to your stomach.

I've been in multiple groups, some that met in person, some that meet online, and I've found a critique partner is a bit like a husband. The strengths and weaknesses need to complement each other.

My current critique partner sometimes needs help bridging between scenes. I have a good eye for that. She spots the weak motivations or out of character reactions that I am blind to.

That's the trick - finding that person who writes the same amount you do, who helps constructively, and who you get along with.

If you're in a bad group - get out and move on. Life is too short for that.

Maggie Toussaint
romance and mystery author

Valerie Bowman said...

Great post. Good things to keep in mind. It's about business, not personal.

Sandra Cox said...

Good post and so true.

Lee Lopez said...

I've been with my critique partners for almost 9yrs. We know each other well, have had a lot ups and downs in our personal life, but still write, and help each other.
I've left groups, because they are too negative, tell you that like romance, and in general tell you what and how to write. That's not the point. The key word here is 'help' not hinder.

Julie Musil said...

Thanks for this honest list. So far our partnership is working out great, and I hope is stays that way!

Josie said...

I've had wonderful critique partners through the years---the best being our very own FTH critters. Sometimes you need a second (or third) pair of eyes when reviewing your work.
Great list!