Friday, April 13, 2012

The Great Critique Partner Question!

Since I'm so hopelessly behind on email (my inbox has reached nightmare-inducing levels) I'm trying to tackle some of the questions that keep popping up, that way I'm answering all of them at once! And these are two that show up a LOT:

Do I need Critique Partners?
How do I find them?

The answer to the first question is easy: YES. 

Yes, I personally feel that you need CPs. I know a few published authors who work without them--but they sorta fall into that same strange crack as the people who write their book in like a week or sell their novel after like a day on sub. The rest of us live in reality. And the reality is, you need CPs--especially when you're just starting out. My writing went to a whole other level once I had people who could point out what I was doing wrong--not to mention having people to turn to when a scene isn't working or a plot thread needs brainstorming is a priceless, priceless thing. So yes. Get a CP. Get 2 or 3 if you can.

Which inevitably leads to the follow-up question of: How do I find them? And that, unfortunately, I don't have an easy answer for. 

Honestly? It's HARD. I think that's why so many people keep asking if they even need them, because it's so hard to find them. And I remember feeling the exact same way.

Because here's the thing: you're not just looking for any writer willing to read your pages and offer suggestions. You're looking for a writer who not only has valuable suggestions to offer (cause uh... not all suggestions are good ones) but who also "gets" your story and what you're trying to do--and who you get along with well enough on a personal level that you can accept their critique without getting your feathers too ruffled. And THAT is a tall order. 

So all of that being said--how do you do it? How do you find CPs?

Basically, you have to put yourself "out there" and LOOK. 

I know some people have found them through conferences, or flyers posted at their library or on the bulletin board at a nearby college. If you're looking for "local" CPs who you could meet with in person, that's probably the best way to go. But I think the majority of us prefer to have a bit wider of a pool to choose from, so we find our CPs online.

Sadly, theperfecrCPforyou.com doesn't exist (if only...) but there are several forum websites where people connect with other writers, like Absolutewrite.com and VerlaKay--even WriteOnCon when the conference is going. And I know lots of people who've had great success with posting in there that they need a CP and seeing who responds. I've even seen bloggers do "CP Matchmaking" or seen people post "ads" on their blogs looking for CPs. Whatever works for you.

Personally, I found my CPs through the blogosphere.  I searched for other bloggers who looked like they were at the same "place" as I was--i.e. serious about writing but still learning--and then spent a few weeks getting to know them through their posts and emails. And once I'd decided that they *might* be a good fit, I proposed the idea of exchanging pages--and squealed with glee with they agreed. And that--as they say--was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

(side note: a lot of time the tendency people have is to reach out to the writers who are already agented/published, wanting their experience--which I get, but ... usually those writers already have CPs they're working with--plus deadlines and publishing obligations--so they usually don't have time to read for anyone else)

Basically, it's hard. And definitely not an overnight process. But it's SO worth it. Do not let the fact that its hard scare you off from trying. Trust me--good CPs are worth their weight in gold.

That's pretty much all I have to say on the subject--other than a few random pointers for making the CP process a bit smoother:

  • Don't ask them to read your pages without offering to read theirs
  • Start by only exchanging a small batch of pages, rather than entire MSs, that way you can make sure you're both a good fit for each other and that you can work with their notes
  • Come to some sort of agreed upon schedule for when you'll each be returning pages with feedback. Obviously you both need to be reasonable and flexible--but exchanging of notes should also be mutual, so make sure you're getting critiques back to them in a timely fashion and that they're doing the same for you.
  • If you don't like their notes, don't be afraid to politely say it's not working out. Not all people have the same vision for a project / can work together. HOWEVER...
  • Remember, you're working with a CP because you want to grow as a writer--not because you want someone to pet you on the head and tell you everything is perfect. A good CP will both praise and push you, and you need to let them, not argue with / ignore them.

Okay, I think that pretty much covers it. Hope that helps!

HAPPY FRIDAY!

18 comments:

  1. Of course these practical tips help, lovely Shannon! Thank you!! You really build a good relationship with your CP by lots of give and take and respect and honesty!

    Yes, finding a great CP takes lots and lots of patience and time!

    take care
    x

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  2. Great advice. I met my CP's at writing class but I've also met people through blogs.

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  3. I think blogging - so that people can get to know you, and reading blogs - so that you can get to know them, is key. I've parted ways with a few CPs, mostly because the amount of time able to be committed was not equal, but most of the people I've connected with have worked out well. Because I got to know them first.

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  4. Thanks for the advice, Shannon. I've learned a lot of sticky lessons along the way, including how I like to read (on my computer vs on paper), amounts I can handle (180 pg word doc vs the first 4 chapters), and when to agree to read. I have a problem with knowing when to say no--I feel like it sounds mean. I feel like I should put all good karma vibes out there and read everyone else's work but really, I need to focus on my own writing, first.

    I have some great CPs and some I've needed to part from. It's nothing personal, just a matter of time and mutual expectations.

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  5. You're right, it is hard! I had two people working with me while I was doing the second draft of a manuscript (Reboot), but we lost touch after making it about 1/3 of the way through the ms. I think one of the hardest things to find is someone who is at the same level and speed as you. I don't do first draft critique, where you send pages as you write them, but I am still on the hunt for awesome beta partners. I do have a wonderful sister who gives me feedback! :)

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  6. Great post. Critique partners are so vital to the process. :)

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  7. My CPs grew from the blogging community too. I think when you've had a chance to read what they write of a personal nature, you see what type of person they are and the critiquing grows from that.

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  8. Really helpful blog post. Thanks. Now to find a CP.

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  9. I have found this to be true. It really is hard, and that is why I LOVED the CP forum you guys did on Write On Con. That is how I found my first CP! We are thinking about doing a monthly CP Hook-up on our group blog Falling For Fiction because of this. It would be the bloggers responsibility to contact each other but it would give them a place to put themselves our there. ;0)

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  10. I haven't started writing, but I really want to, and I got one of my favorite authors to agree to be my CP. I think it's the coolest thing ever :) Now I just need to actually write something down....

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  11. Writing groups might exist in your area that you aren't aware of. I live in a densley populated suburban area and spent some time on google searching writing groups + city name and found a ton of options. One I attended with a friend met at a local library. Another one I found, but never visited, was a pretty serious group with a website and a book of short stories and poetry they published every year. Also, if you join a national org like RWA or SCBWI they have local chapters. I'm still searching but my issue is more of finding the right group that fits.

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  12. Good advice. I found my in-person CP's through SCBWI (and we are a cohesive group), and most of my online CP's through a writer's workshop (and others through them). All have been invaluable.

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  13. Thanks for the advice on critique partners. I'm CP-less, and while I'm not looking for any at present, it's good to know about the process of finding them. :)

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  14. Great advice - and true to experience. Finding someone to read your pages is a cake walk; finding someone who will make a good critique partner is tough.

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  15. I'm actually lucky enough to have one that isn't afraid to tell me if something doesn't work. Oddly enough, she's not a writer, she's just an avid reader and a friend from high school. But whatever it is between us works. Many times I will be stuck somewhere, and just by talking to her about it, I figure out what's wrong. Doesn't work with anyone else, just her.

    The fact that she's not a writer makes me worry how long I can keep going to her for help, but I appreciate it very much right now.

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  16. Critique partners are invaluable. I'd be lost without mine. Great post!

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  17. I'd love to meet a CP online, but I know my mom wouldn't be super comfortable with it, mostly if the person is anonymous about their identity...like I plan to be. I'm really not sure how to handle the problem!

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