Kristen Lamb‘s blog today is called Do You Have a Psychic Vampire Critique Partner? It deals with identifying and getting rid of awful critique partners (Kristen calls them psychic vampires because they suck the life out of you). Critique partners have been on my brain recently because one of my goals, when I go to a writer’s conference (like the one I attended two weeks ago), is to find an awesome critique partner. It doesn’t happen often. In fact, it’s only happened once for me. I met my first critique partner, Melody, at the first writer’s conference I ever attended. It was in Seattle, and she seemed even more terrified than I was. It was her first conference, too. I listened to her pitch what sounded like an awesome story to The Agent, sympathized when she was shot down (I was, too), then later I asked if she’d be interested in swapping chapters via email. She agreed, and we’ve been critique partners–and friends–ever since. It worked out beautifully.
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Ever since then, I’ve been on the look-out for another awesome critique partner. After all, if one is beautiful, two ought to be glorious. While futzing around with an on-line group of writers, I found my second critique partner. She’s awesome, too! Then I got greedy. If TWO are awesome, what would life be like if I had THREE? It’s incomprehensible. I’ve swapped chapters with a bunch of other authors over the years, but most of them don’t stick around after we finish each other’s first book. I’ve got one gentleman who’s stuck around through three books, and it’s looking like it might turn into a long-term thing where we both learn from each other. So there’s my three great critique partners. But I think I have time for a fourth. I just have to find him/her.
Here are the qualities I value most in My Most Awesome Critique Partners:
1) They aren’t afraid to tell me the truth. “This passage feels strained,” or “this metaphor stinks,” or “this description made me hungry–I’m off to eat a tuna sandwich, be back in a bit.” I love to hear when my writing has moved them, but even more, I like to hear when it’s clunky, stiff, or too wordy. A great critique partner tells the truth with love, not cruelty. And they won’t feel offended when I tell the truth in my critiques of their work.
2) They have something of value to share. I’m a pre-published author, but I’m not a newbie. I like my critique partners to be at or near the same level that I am. While a newbie writer might be able to tell me if a metaphor stinks (I’m really bad at metaphors), most likely they won’t be able to identify bigger problems. They might KNOW something’s wrong, but unable to put their finger on it. A great critique partner can identify the problem and maybe even offer a couple of solutions.
3) They have words to share. When I’ve got a chapter ready, I want them to have a chapter ready, too. I feel selfish when I send a chapter (because I’m anxious for honest feedback), but they have nothing to send. They get that chapter back to me, I send them another… and pretty soon they’ve read my entire book and I’ve edited two chapters of their work. That’s not fair. I know life’s not fair, but critique partnering should be. That’s just me.
4) They freely offer their time. Sometimes I get stuck on a plot point. In the outlining phase, it worked, but once I get to the scene, it’s a major failure. Most of the time, I can work through these problems. But sometimes I need extra help. I can fire off an email to any of my Awesome Critique Partners and explain the difficulty I’m having. They take the time to brainstorm ideas and send me ALL of them! I can pick and choose, or maybe one of their ideas will spark a new one in my head that will work. The bottom line is, they don’t feel the need for a by-line, they’re just willing to help.
5) They’re supportive. When rejections pour in, we mourn with each other. When I signed with my agent, they celebrated with me. We’re invested in each other’s lives. We’ve become friends. That’s even more awesome than having a good critique partner.
That’s all I’m looking for in a critique partner. What about you? Do you have a writing group or a critique partner? What do you love most about him/her?