Are you between NaNoWriMo and the new year’s fresh opportunities to renew your writing practice? Maybe you’re taking a month off from your writing routine to re-enter the so-called real world. In any case, December is a good time to consider the care and feeding of your writing career. So what do you need? A long-range plan? A fistful of USB drives? A workspace more conducive to actual work?
How about a critique partner?
Now, don’t take it personally. I imagine that most of you reading this column already have a critique partner. I think you’re here because you care about your work and you’re willing to put in the time and effort necessary to make sure it looks its best. Having said that, I think most of us know someone who needs a critique partner or who is looking for another critique partner. Maybe our acquaintance doesn’t know he needs a critique partner or doesn’t know how to find one. Maybe it’s time to expand to a critique network.
Finding a good critique partner is no simple task, but with confidence, patience, and a thick skin, it’s far from impossible. Hopefully, these notes will start you thinking about what you need and don’t need as you go looking for your new CP.
Your partner should understand your genre. This is not to say that your CP has to write in the same genre as you, or even that he has to write genre fiction. But if you’re writing romance and your partner openly disdains the genre as a whole, you’re not going to get as much as you can out of that relationship. Drill down as far into subgenres as you need to. You’ll want someone who isn’t squeamish about the specific mix of elements that brings your writing to life.
It’s a good idea to seek out a partner who’s going to challenge you. You shouldn’t feel like you’re being dragged behind your partner, but in any sound partnership, each of you will find something to admire about the other. When you admire your CP, you’ll want to stretch yourself as a writer so that you can get the most out of that relationship.
At the same time, your ideal partner knows your voice and your style. Like a good editor, your critique partner will help you to sound more like yourself. That’s not to say that your partner can’t share with you what he would do in a specific situation. If you’re finding that your partner’s critique consistently leads you to sound more like him at the expense of yourself, then it’s time to shop around some more.
So where do you find the ideal critique partner? If you were in NaNoWriMo, you’ve got a good place to start; the December forums have lots of great resources, as well as potential partners. If you look for partners online, you’ll find a large number of people to choose from, but seeking out critique partners in person can be just as productive. Try local writers’ groups (plug it into your search engine and go from there) and get involved in your local literary community. You might even try Meetup.com. There’s a Meetup for just about everything. When you start to narrow things down, consider gathering a little group of critique partners, like the Knights of the Round Table or the X-Men (back in the day, before there were X-Men on each coast and overseas). You’ll keep your own skills sharp by critiquing several people, and you’ll have a group of opinions to choose from when the time comes. Plus you’ll have a lot of occasions to celebrate when each of you finds a new level of success.
I’ve been very fortunate – my critique partner is a genius! (And no, I’m not going to tell you who she is; I very selfishly am trying to prevent increases in demand.) When I was looking for partners, I found I kept more of her marks than anyone else’s. She bears my fits of pique with patience and good humor. She’s gentle and diplomatic and sticks to her guns. And as I work, I often catch myself thinking, “Oh, yeah. She’s going to mark that.” All of that has made me a better writer, and I hope I’ve at least been helpful to her as well.
I still think most of you already have critique partners. What does that relationship look like for you?
**Freelance editor Lexi Walker will be posting on issues of grammar, usage, and style twice monthly. She knows that her firm approach to editing stings a little but prefers to think that the momentary discomfort means the process is working.