At my first Romance Writers of Australia conference I was like most newbies; bean-green, wide-eyed and just a little star struck.
The keynote speaker was Jenny Crusie whose blog I’ve followed with interest for a number of years. Crusie is one of those generous writers who let you into their lives so you meet their crazy friends, psychotic pets and mildly dysfunctional families.
Crusie had a major cold. She felt like crap and told us so in typical style. But when she started to talk about writing friendships she glowed. Her great mate Krissie (author Anne Stuart) had accompanied her ‘down under’. To a comment by a snuffly Crusie that she wasn’t sure an equally ill Krissie was in the audience that morning there was a shout from the audience, ‘I’m here, sister!’ Joyous stuff.
In a world of social media it’s easy to be “friends” with everyone. Writers who toiled away in isolation 20 years ago are now in touch with as many friends as they can handle at the press of a button. Not all these friends will make the ideal critique partner.
Choose your crit partner wisely. Here are my tips:
1. Each should bring as much, if not more, to the relationship. Share on a one-for-one basis to start with. Later, as the relationship develops, you can make allowances for the varying demands the other might have on her time. Synchronise writing speeds. There’s nothing worse than sending a chapter and receiving 3 in reply. It will change from time to time but you should get the feeling that you are roughly equal in the equation.
2. Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
3. Check out their online identity. If they’re published, check out their reviews. See how they interact with others on their face book page, twitter, etc.
4. Decide whether you want to match interests and writing styles or go for something different. If you write sweet romance but want to prise that bedroom door open an erotic romance writer may help.
5. Look for someone you think you can learn from. If you’re in a face-to-face group already and you admire someone’s writing, ask. It may not be a yes but could lead to…
6. Consider having a couple of people you only send stuff to occasionally, prefaced by something like ‘I’m having trouble with this but can’t work out why.’ A writer on the next level is more likely to take an interest in helping if they don’t feel pressured to be a full-time CP.
7. Don’t have so many critique partners that you spend too much time reading their work and don’t have time to do your own. For me, two – three is max.
8. Commit equally to honest appraisal. Everyone loves to hear “OMG, I love it!” But we’re looking for someone who can help us move up to the next level. I like a crit partner to apply the blowtorch where warranted otherwise I’m just treading water. So put the big girl panties on and take some criticism. Fair, robust criticism will push you on. Comfy criticism will cripple you.
9. You didn’t exchange rings so don’t be scared to call it off. Some critique partnerships dwindle through lack of interest. Others need to be finished by either party. You don’t need a court order to get out of this. A simple email thanking the person for their time (which after all you have repaid if you’ve followed Rule 1) and wishing them well will go a long way to maintaining a friendship.
10. Have an honest discussion about plagiarism, use of ideas etc. Some beginning writers don’t have an understanding of this and may not respect the writing and ideas of their CP. Define right up front where the boundaries are. Spell out that all exchanged work is not to be on-forwarded and is to be destroyed on request.
11. Don’t send your writing into the void. This is your hard earned work, your property and the stuff of your dreams. Don’t send it right left and centre to people hiding behind Writerbabe69 or whatever.
12. Work out when a crit partner has taken you over. Your book is more hers than yours. She’s stronger, dominant, convinced of her opinions. You’ve received critiques with more track changes than a capital city rail system. Remember this is your book.
A good critique partner is worth her weight in gold. Good luck with your search!
You can visit Louise on her website, blog or Facebook.