So you may have noticed that WE’RE HOSTING A CRITIQUE-PARTNER CONNECTION! I’m pretty excited about this.
To help aid your way, I’ve compiled a list of the traits that have kept me and my best CPs (critique partners) together through the years. Enjoy!
1. Be practical.
You finally have a CP! Now all you want to do is send them your entire novel and get feedback tomorrow. That’s how this works, right?
Unfortunately, there are these things in life called “time” and “responsibilities.” So normally it’s better to be a bit more practical.
Exchange one or two chapters initially, to make sure you’ll be a good fit together as far as writing style/interests. Then figure out what sort of exchange works for you both. I recommend one to three chapters at a time. Longer chunks can get difficult to manage, both because it can be intimidating to read that much and hard to give everything the same level of critique.
(The exception for this is, of course, if you want a full-on, complete overview of a novel.)
2. Be friendly.
It’s easy to be harsh and it’s hard to stay committed when you don’t know the person you’re critiquing. But if you’re building a relationship with them, your enthusiasm their projects will grow quickly.
Email your CP, follow them on Pinterest, maybe even friend them on Facebook! Talk about whatever—writing, interests, life. Pursue knowing your CP like you’d pursue knowing a friend.
(Alternatively, you might find the opposite is true and the more you learn about them the more you want to run the other way. This is also important. If you don’t click with someone it’s better (and less awkward) to find out early and move on.)
3. Be balanced.
The chapter exchange method I mentioned above works well on another level: It keeps both partners consistent. We only exchange new material once we’ve both read the stuff we gave last week, so no one gets too far ahead.
When one partner zooms through stuff and the other partner is struggling to catch up, it can make the relationship strained. I find myself much more eager to critique when my CP has just given me feedback. It’s selfish, but true. When both sides feel like they’re getting as much as they’re giving, they will be more eager to keep up with it. Sometimes an imbalance in the workload can begin to break the relationship.
4. Be kind.
Whenever you can, compliment the person you’re critiquing. If you like a sentence, say so. If you’re freaking out on reader-level about something that’s happening, vent your feelings. (I’ve had one CP write “WTF?!?” all across a high-tensions page, and I giggled over it for probably ten minutes.)
If you find yourself being too critical on the first read-through, scan back and find places to add in encouragement. Your job is to help make this story the best it can be—so you want to let the writer know where it’s shining.
Always end on a high note. I try to use the sandwich method: something nice first, something meaty, something nice again. This is just a polite way to remind the writer that you’re on their side.
Kindness will help make critiquing go down easier, and when you’re kind they will be more likely to listen when you’re critical. Speaking of…
5. Be (politely) honest.
There are some hallmarks to polite but honest critiquing:
- Use phrases like “I think” and “maybe”
- Don’t just point out a problem, try to offer a solution
- Don’t go for blood—try to phrase your suggestions in a way that shows they are just suggestions
The Golden Rule of Critiquing: This is not your book, this is not your story, you are not the creator.
Your job is to try to understand what the writer is doing, and to help the story be the best it can be. You’re welcome to suggest some big changes, especially if you see a gap and a solution that could push the story toward that overall goal, but you must remember that at the end of the day, the writer is the one in charge. Their decision, whether or not you agree with it, stands.
Once upon a time, a friend of mine was writing a shapeshifter story. Someone suggested the shapeshifter might be an alien, and the story could be about her trying to find her alien family. My friend calmly and maturely replied, “That’s a great idea, but that’s not my story.”
Don’t be out to alter the story. Listen. Ask questions. Point out things that could be improved. You’re there to help the story grow, but you aren’t there to write it. A learning and flexible attitude is vital to being a good CP.
BONUS: I recommend using Google Docs for critiquing. It’s easy for both parties to access, and the comment system lets you reply to someone else’s comments. This means you can get a dialogue going, which can help you work with your CP to find solutions.
Now, your CP might never be the maid of honor at your wedding. But I can guarantee that with these tips, you can be a stellar CP—and maybe get an awesome friend out of the deal.
Until next time, don’t eat any food in the fairy realm, and keep being awesome.