A year and a half ago I hadn’t even heard of the term critique partner, or CP, as we cool cats say. Typical of me, it just sort of happened without much planning on my part. Lisa, a member of my writing group, and I began emailing each other snippets of our work between our monthly meetings. Soon enough those daily emails evolved into a flurry of queries zipping back and forth.
Before Lisa came along I’d follow my hubby around saying “Hey, honey, would you mind reading this story? It’s only 11,000 words…” He’d say “What’s that behind you!” I’d guilelessly look over my shoulder and, confused, turn back only to hear tyres squealing, my house bereft of said husband, with only the smell of burnt rubber for comfort. Of all the low down… Never mind, I now have a CP extraordinaire.
Lisa and I talk about everything from “What do you think of this as a character’s name?” to “I’m sending over my 60,000 word novel for edits.”
Each critique partner is different. If you find one, you might like to discuss what each person is prepared to commit to the relationship. Reading entire manuscripts with your red pen poised is time spent away from your own writing, after all.
Some CPs offer a certain amount of time, such as two hours every Friday. Others critique only when you’ve both finished manuscripts. However, Lisa and I are in constant communication. We look at each other’s work as soon as we send it and get back to each other ASAP, usually in a few days, depending on the length of the story. We send each other writing tips and tricks, marketing ideas and everything in between.
We have our editing down to a fine art and know certain writing quirks to look out for in each other’s writing. I use too many words such as ‘was’ and ‘all’, and Lisa swiftly banishes them for my manuscript (or MS for short). If any dreaded adverbs try to take over, we slay those suckers quick as we can. While you can spend a lot of time combing through someone else’s work it’s also a great way to see where you’re going wrong in your own. We get too close to our stories to the point that the words blur until we can’t see straight, but when you read through your CP’s MS things will jump out and have you scrambling back to your own with more clarity than before.
I’d be lost without Lisa. We’ve been through the trenches together, sending out queries and facing rejections until we both had our novels accepted, and, coincidentally, our contracts arrived on the same day.
If you do find a critique partner it’s best to set the ground rules, especially if you don’t know them in person. Be careful sending your work to someone you’ve met online unless they’re from an established group. Try and find a CP from your writing group or local writing centre before you look elsewhere.
There are reputable online groups for CPs, so stick to those if that’s the way you choose to find one. For example the Romance Writers of Australia (RWA) try to arrange suitable CPs for their members, and help you sort out how much time you’re both prepared to give, and all the nitty gritty that is conducive to a good CP relationship. It’s a great community of writer’s and they do look out for their members so can you rest assured, your work will be safe.
How About We CP? is a site run by literary agent, Jessica Sinsheimer. You can search for a CP by genre, or submit your own profile, and wait for people to find you.
When you do critique someone else’s work, do so in a professional, helpful manner. Point out what works in their MS before you knock the things that don’t. Even when you do have an issue with something it’s always nice to say it’s just your opinion and let them decide what works for them.
Like any relationship, it takes time to get to know the person. Lisa and I are completely upfront with each other about our work now, but it didn’t happen overnight. It’s not that we were dishonest before, but it took a while to get to know how the other wrote, and how we could best help each other, and what we felt comfortable saying.
If you haven’t got a CP I hope you find one as amazing as mine. Writing can be a solitary journey, but not so when you have a critique partner.
Rebecca Raisin’s author website: www.rebeccaraisin.wordpress.com
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