Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Critique Partners

Several times in posts I've mentioned a few of my critique partners. I must say I have an exceptional group of romance critiquers to help me: Ashley Kath-Bilsky, Gigi Sherrell Norwood, Jeanmarie Hamilton, Sandy Crowley, and members of my Yellow Rose RWA chapter. I also have a mystery critique group called Raven Mavens.  I critique by email with Jeanmarie and Sandy while Ashley and Gigi and I meet on a Sunday evening at a restaurant that is a mid way distance between Ashley and Gigi (Gigi lives near me). Our Yellow Rose RWA chapter has numerous qualified members willing to do a quick critique when asked.

When arranging for others to critique your work, there are several guidelines. Don't choose randomly. If you must do so, try a little pre-critique to see how you fit. Here are some pitfalls to watch for:

1. Does the other person have skills that will enhance your weak areas? For instance, if you are weak in grammar, perhaps you need a person who is very good at grammar and spelling. You might be great at emotions, where someone else is weak in that area. Try to mesh talents so you really help one another.

2. Is the other person trustworthy to keep your writing confidential? You don't want someone who will show your work around. No matter how good the person thinks you are, you should have control over who sees your prepublished work.You certainly don't want someone who will tell others, "You won't believe the stupid writing of (insert your name)."

3. Are you a good fit personality-wise? If someone is demanding and insists her/his way is the only possible way to write, you won't enjoy being bullied. Conversely, it's no help whatsoever to have someone who is so sweet they won't point out any weak areas or mistakes. You need an open-minded, honest person to help you.

4. Is this person a serious writer who produces at a rate similar to yours? If you write ten or so pages a day and the other person writes that much every month or two, there's no equality in your exchange. (However, you may enjoy critiquing with this person if you do so face-to-face and enjoy the fellowship. Sometimes it's nice just to talk to other writers about writing.)

5. Does this person know enough about craft and technique to assist you? A person who gives bad advice can damage your work.

Before I found the critiquers above, I had mixed experiences. One person stole my ideas. Each week, something from my last chapter would show up in hers. I finally challenged her on this and she admitted it, but didn't think it was a big deal. I did, and quit critiquing with her. I learned later that she had done the same thing to others. A multi-published friend had a similar experience from someone who stole her book ideas.

Another critique partner never wrote more than a chapter. Each time we met, she would have rewritten the same chapter. She was a good writer, but lazy and lacking in confidence. She's not even a member of a writer's group now. It's a shame because she had a good plot and knew how to tell a story.

The point of this blog article is to caution you to choose your critique partner carefully. A bad critique partner can hurt your writing. One friend quit writing for a year because of scathing comments made by one of her critique partners--now a former firend. Here are some guidelines to being a good critique partner yourself:
1. Constructive criticism is the key.
2. Never tear down another person or make it personal.
3. When you point out something that needs changing, also mention something good.
4. Never say, "Oh, this is wonderful" and leave it at that. Mention good and bad. What did you like/dislike?
5. Don't tell someone his or her idea is wrong unless you can back up your statement with evidence.

I hope all your critique session are productive.


Sandra Crowley said...

Hi Caroline,

Thanks for mentioning me in your blog postings. You're a real lady. And, you're right, a good critique partner can be invaluable help, while a bad one can ruin your writing. Best of luck to those who are looking and congratulations to those who have found a good match.

Nicole McCaffrey said...

Amen, Caroline! It took me a few tries to find the right fit with my CP's, but once I found the right ones everything just clicked into place.

Great advice, and so true. As they say, a good critique partner is worth her weight in chocolate. *G*

Susan Macatee said...

Great advice, Caroline! You sure do have some horror stories. I guess there are people insecure enough to steal another's writing. Best to steer clear of those!