Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Ode to Critique Partners


Last night I met up with Cass in Second Life and we went skin shopping for one of her virtual characters. We have both been fleshing out our heroines in SL lately. Doing this helps us see them visually. We can stage them also, which is an added bonus.There is something to be said about walking a mile in your character's skin. It can help you put things in a new perspective.

While shopping last night, we did a bit of brainstorming as well. It's hard to believe, but I only have two weeks left to pull together my material for conference. Yikes! With that in mind, let me say something a bit off the beaten path here...there is nothing more valuable, or harder to find, than a good critique partner. I really don't think they get enough credit.

It is very hard to find someone you can trust with your ideas, someone who will also tell you when your plots stink and that your avatar's butt looks fat. If they can say that because you know them well, and because they mean it with love, they are an absolute, 100% keeper. Being a critique partner is about friendship with a side of tough love, baby.

I have heard a shocking number people rant about how someone from their critique circle said their project needed work, or that they needed to work on their grammar, or that they need to pick one POV style and stick with it. I have to restrain myself from asking, "Okay...if you're not into receiving helpful criticism, what are you there for?"

I have also had friends ask me to read over their material only to look at me funny when I offer suggestions. More than one has flounced off in a huff, and I am not one of those "tear you to shreds" type of people. (Karma folks. Just remember!) I'm quite gentle in making suggestions, but for some people that doesn't matter. [Flouncy huffiness is just one of the reason's why I no longer look at other people's chapters unless it is set up through a charity/auction event, or required participation as part of a workshop.]

My advice is this... If you don't want to hear an honest opinion about your work, don't ask another writer to read it. Take your story to your mother and have her read it. She is almost guaranteed to love it.

The purpose of a critique, and a critique partner, is not to give you an ego stroke.

It is not a critique partner's job to tell you you're going to be the next Stephen King, even if you turn out to be.

Oh, sure, it's great when your critique partner loves what you've written, but that is not the point. If you are sending your work to other writers to be read for kudos, you're likely going to walk away disappointed. And flouncing away angry is not going to get you any closer to publishing what you've written.

A good critique partner gives feedback on your work with any criticisms geared toward changes they feel should be made for the benefit of your story. The feedback should be about what you've written, not you personally. If they love it, and see no flaws - awesomeness! But sometimes, 99% of the time, the feedback likely isn't what you want to hear. You may find out you totally blew your theme, or your conflict is about as interesting as a pile of day old laundry. Hey, be grateful you got your creative feelings hurt now, by someone you like and trust. That is certainly better than being smacked with a cold mackerel of a review by some stranger later.

Oh. One thing about bad reviews. They happen. C'est la vie. But it's especially suck-tastic when you get razzed in a review over an issue you could have fixed if you'd only listened to your critique partner!


If your critique partner will also go into a graveyard after dark to go zombie hunting with you, it's an added bonus!

If you're reading this and you get nothing else out of my garbled ramblings, I hope you find a good critique partner like the one I have. If you do, count yourself blessed. Last night, Cass totally helped me noodle through one of my toughest plot snafus to date. After being stuck on the same scene for three days, I'm finally able to move forward.

Sometimes when you're stuck, all you really need to get going again is a
kick in the pants
fresh perspective.

That's all for now, everyone. Someone start the countdown to Friday, please. And by the way...happy writing!

2 comments:

  1. I couldn't agree with you more! I bounce stuff off a good friend of mine who is a writer and I also belong to a small writer's group. In the beginning I remember being SO scared to let anyone read anything because I compared my writings to others and as my worst critic thought my stuff sucked next to theirs. But I learned to love what I write and that we all have different styles. Now I look forward to critique and the help of different perspectives. Part of growing as a writer!!

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  2. Another great post, Cora. Yes, indeed, critique partners are super important. I started out in a semi-large group (6-8 people or so; large for that many stories going on at once), and while it was interesting and fun and I learned a great deal about other genres, I discovered I don't work so well with that many people poring over my work. Too confusing, and before I knew it, I was writing for them and not me. And that, as you know, is never good. In any event, I was lucky enough to land a good partner -- with all the wonderful qualities you've been so kind as to point out for us in your blog. She's hard on me -- "I absolutely will not let you get away with that sentence. You can do better." -- but it's always for the benefit of the story, the characters, etc. OK, sorry for rambling! Again, GREAT post. :)

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