Putting the “Partner” in Critique Partner

Most of us have an aversion to critiquing and being critiqued, and this might cause us to fear finding or becoming a critique partner. I recently shared about being a good critiquer when you CP with someone. Today, I wanted to write about the other half of the equation: the “partner” side of the job.

When I started this writing journey, I had a laptop, a sofa, a vague idea, and some borrowed gumption. I somehow turned that into a draft that I immediately blasted out to my non-writer friends. They, in turn, had one of two responses. Either they said it was great or they said it was lousy, but none of them told me why. I appreciated their time, but I couldn’t use their feedback because there really wasn’t any. They meant well, but until you’ve written, you can’t possibly know. And then of course, after I revised, I felt like I’d already borrowed enough of their time, so I couldn’t possibly ask them to re-read — even if that wouldn’t have been tantamount to dropping my MS into a garbage can.

I assumed working with CPs would be more of the same, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In 2014, I found my CPs the way you do — through a writing contest and a shy little “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” My first attempt at feedback fell woefully short of helpful. I read the MS in one file, took notes in another, and emailed my reactions every time I finished a chapter. I just assumed any feedback was better than no feedback. And that’s true, and I know my CP appreciated every single word. But…

Meanwhile, my more experienced CP edited, tracked changes, and commented right in the margins of my file. When I got my MS back, I hunted for those comments, little gems of insight. The first time I came across a fat blurb of encouragement, I couldn’t contain my pudding face. Sure there were other comments — and again, see the part about critiquing — but they were specific and dead-on balls accurate.

And that’s the obvious role of a CP, but I was about to find out that things get better. A shit ton better.

In between novels, my CPs and I emailed about the obstacles we all struggle against as writers. We bounced around ideas for new novels and basically kept each other sane while waiting for responses to outstanding queries. We shared our experiences with each other and learned more than we could have on our own. We were in this together, through thick and thin. You feel like quitting? Tell your CP and see how long that feeling lasts. A good CP isn’t just that person who tells you your fly is down, s/he’s also that person who reminds you that the finishing line is just up ahead, that you can certainly pick yourself up and keep going, and that you ARE a contender. You’re not just going to finish. You’re going to win the chicken dinner.

And there’s more.

During the summer of 2014, I got an idea that wouldn’t let go. For a solid month, while I wrote and wrote, my CPs cheered me along the road of wording until I had declared the story done. Then they made me do something I thought was crazy. They asked for my draft. MY DRAFT.

Stop and think about that for a moment. Yeah, my knees turned to water.

Surely they’d want me to revise it into something readable first, right? I pulled out a few hairs in nervous agony but sent it along. Knowing it was an early draft, they both changed gears. They nixed the harsh critique in favor of loving suggestions. They listened to me while I explained my vision for the work, and they brainstormed with me to iron out those patchy places and amp up those scintillating scenes. There is no way that my MS would exist without their constant support throughout the process. And no way it would have been acceptable for Pitch Wars in the time it was. This is the kind of support I couldn’t have imagined back when I was minus my fantastic partners.

I’d like to believe that all of the above I’ve done for them in return. It’s a partnership. And it grows into a friendship.

If you don’t already have a critique partner, and you’ve been on the fence about hooking up with someone, realize that you can do it alone, but it’s a lot less fun and a whole lot more work that way. I constantly ask myself how I managed my first MS without them. Then I remember — oh yeah, I shelved that one. There’s no way I’d work alone again.

Huge thanks to my extraordinary critique partners! Y’all make the trip worth making.