Let’s talk about critique partners and etiquette.
I’ve been around the writing world for a hot minute now. I’ve had enough crit partners I can’t honestly keep track of them all, much less where we connected. And some I’m no longer partners with. So I know a bit about CP’s.
What I know:
A good CP is worth their weight in gold—seriously. That’s all.
A GREAT CP will infuriate you when you first read their notes.—Liz won’t speak to me when I hand over her manuscript. And Auzy might infuriate me with his remarks (seriously, he HATED all of my characters in one MS) but he’s been known to be right. Once in a while. *grin*
The best CP’s are often found without really looking for them—truth? One of my CPs is a dear friend, and one of the few people I complain to, when I need to complain. She’s also spot on about finding issues and knowing how to help me tell MY story better without compromising it. And I haven’t got the first clue how we met. I’ve come to the conclusion that’s okay.
You don’t need to be best friends—BUT sometimes it happens. CP’s work well when their objective and not a close friend. They also work well when they are. I have some of both, and I like it that way.
A relationship like this takes time and respect—Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that. You hand over your MS for feedback and it’s not immediately forthcoming and it’s like, oh shit! They hate it, I’m a failure, I suck and should burn my computer. And notebooks. And pens. And drown myself in chocolate. *ahem* Sorry. Anyway, that’s not true, right? You wouldn’t be CP’s if, at the essence, you didn’t like their work and vice versa (at least, I wouldn’t be. Why waste my time on someone whose work I don’t support, if I and they can find someone who does?) But just because they love your work, doesn’t mean you should expect immediate feedback. People have lives, outside the bubble of the writing world. And those lives have demands—which you need to be able to respect. Which brings me to the second point:
So you’ve done what seems like the impossible—you’ve found a CP. Or several. And you’ve sent them some work. And life is all roses and charm and everyone is in love. How do you keep that? How do you make sure to keep a working relationship without stepping on toes, when in essence, the relationship is ABOUT stepping on toes? A few suggestions:
Give a your CP time frame, and be good about staying within it—sure your CP knows you have a life, but if you say you’re gonna have a query crit back to them that night, don’t be surprised or irritated when they start bugging you after two or three days of radio silence.
Know what they want—okay, you can read something and see a bijillion grammatical errors and misspelled words and it might irritate you to your little grammar Nazi heart feels fit to die—but if they aren’t ready for that crit, you offering it is wasting everyone’s time. Know what they want from a crit, whether it be big picture or nitty gritty line by lines. If you see something that bugs you that you know they aren’t looking for at the moment, mention it briefly and offer to look at it for them when they’re ready. And then let it go.
Be nice. You are tearing apart their baby, something they love. The same nerves you feel when their critting, they feel too. So be nice about how you do it—ESPECIALLY if it’s a new relationship. Blunt, ‘dude, what the hell? I’m so freakin’ confused!!!!’ comments should probably wait til you have enough history for them to know it’s not you hating, it’s just…you.
DON’T. PROJECT. Look, I get it. You care about the project. If it’s a long term CP, you’ve prolly been hearing about it from inception, listened to brainstorming sessions, thrown ideas at it. You’ve probably even read the stupid thing so often you can quote passages. But here’s the thing to remember. It ISN’T yours. This story may be close to your heart because you’ve helped it so much, but don’t project yourself in the crit. Don’t change the voice because it isn’t yours. This is a fine line to walk and I’ll freely admit I’ve struggled with it in the past. Hell, I might still struggle with it, and my CP’s just aren’t telling me. But know your voice. Know the author’s. And if you are suggesting something because it’s not how YOU would write it, step back and let it go.
Last but not least—don’t overextend yourself. Should you have more than one crit partner? Hells, yes. Like, a million times, yes. Multiple crit’s are essential to improvement. But know your limit—because they expect and deserve the same crit your receiving. And too many cooks in the kitchen? That’s just as bad as not enough.
So that’s my thoughts. Anyone got anything to add? Etiquette tips to offer, or observations to make? Let’s hear ‘em in the comments! :) And a sincere thank you to all of my lovely CP’s, some of whom are among my closest friends. I adore y’all.