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Finding the Right Critique Partner

You need one.

And no, your cat doesn’t count.

Afternoon kids, 

Let’s talk about finding the right critique partner.

I finished my first book in March. I am not even kidding you when I say I thought I was going to send this book out and have every agent knocking on my door begging to represent me.

I didn’t get that. Instead I got 23 rejections.

One within the first hour.

Ouch.

I’ve looked back at that first query with the first ten pages since and sort of been like… lol. Was I on acid when I sent this out? What reason did I have to believe that this was at all good?

Well, I hadn’t yet sent it out to a single reader, I couldn’t even get my mom to read it, and my BFF who read my 8th grade version of a novel didn’t even text me back when I sent her the first one hundred pages.

Needless to say I was feeling a little tragic. A little confused as to why the writing wasn’t resulting in like fourteen requests for more material and literary agents fighting over my manuscript. I thought it was gonna be like a remake of what conspires between my dog and me in the morning where I beg her for attention and she couldn’t care less, me being the dog, the literary agent begging for my attention. Nope, it was the other way around and I still can’t manage to get a single literary agent’s attention. 

So why am I telling you this?

Because I didn’t know any better. I had NO IDEA I needed other readers, three or four of them to go through and say fix this and scratch that and remove this and reword that. I didn’t realize how terrible my first draft really was until I had four or five people pointing out the same things, things that went right over my fucking head and were consistent throughout all 417 FUCKING PAGES.

So, how did I get to this point?

Well, I submitted my work to #FicFest – here’s another blunt confession, I thought EVERY mentor was going to be fighting for my work. NO.

But within the first few hours, I did get a request for more material.

A couple days later I got an email from the same mentor who requested more material inquiring about my querying process.

A couple days after that, I found out she chose somebody else as her mentee. But wouldn’t you believe, she still wanted to help me out after #FicFest was over.

She believed in me. It takes one person to ignite that fire.

She said the magic words that changed the entire game for me: I want this story to be told but….

It. Needs. Work. 

And it did. A lot of it. 

But I had NO idea about this until somebody pointed out.

THAT IS WHY YOU NEED SOMEBODY TO READ YOUR BOOK.

She gave me some magical feedback, feedback that had me jumping around because I realized it was going to make my story so much stronger. But more importantly, this wonderful human gave me confidence in the story and the means to make it as good as it possibly can be. 

So after that, I started work on a fifth draft, having already gone through and rewritten the first half twice because it was soooo much weaker than the last half, and having done the second read through.  

It took me two months to complete, but it was so worth it, and in that time I picked up two beta-readers, one who was the VERY FIRST PERSON TO FINISH MY BOOK, and one who has helped me make sure that my story is paced right, everything is clear enough, and most importantly, stays consistent.

She’s also a crutch word wizard. (I found these two readers through Twitter, remember to follow me and I’ll introduce you to this amazing community @harlecetizmer)

And then…

I found my critique partner. 

AKA my PILC (Partner in Literary Crime).

So… how do you find the right critique partner, the Harlec E. Tizmer way?

Let’s start with the age. Pick a partner who is one with your times. 

Why do I think this is important?

Because as well as finding somebody who is going to be able to understand your book, you want somebody who is going to be able to understand you as a person and appreciate what others may not.  

My critique partner has a lot of this day and age language in her book. Lines that have me doubling over in laughter because I can just picture her saying them right now at this very moment. A lot of it is very modern. And I just know that if she were to buddy up with somebody who is a lot older than her, they wouldn’t have as easy of a time being able to comprehend what the language means and why it is so important.

I can’t offer helpful advice to somebody who is writing a book about characters who are twice my age. I don’t yet understand that part of life, I don’t yet understand what the stresses are, and I want to be able to understand this person and her work so much so that I feel like she and I are the same person. 

Genre

I think I am one of the very few people who suggest that you find somebody who DOESN’T write your genre. 

I write psychological literary fiction and my critique partner writes NA Science-Fiction, Fantasy. 

You would think we wouldn’t have a lot to offer each other, but we do. 

As a writer, I am always focused on sentence flow, awkward wording, metaphors, and beautiful lines and my PILC is very good with cutting things out that aren’t necessary, cutting down on exposition, consistency, run-on sentences, and pointing out places where I tell instead of show. 

We are perfect for each other. 

My writing has the tendency to float off into the atmosphere and she has the wonderful ability to bring it back down to a place where everyone can understand it, not just me. As a team, when she focuses more on informative writing that’s commercial and I’m over in a closet writing lyrical words that are atmospheric, the two sort of come together to even each other out. I force her to broaden moments that are crucial to her book and she forces me to make sure that the only action isn’t just going on in my main character’s head and in her past. 

Finding somebody who you aren’t in a constant competition with is also key. It would be a fucking task if my critique partner and I wrote the same genre because I know I would feel a little resentful if I was constantly reading through her amazing literary fiction that slays mine with metaphors that are so beautiful I want to slit my throat and email her back a bunch of useless criticism just because.

I don’t know if I would actually do this, but writers are an envious bunch (direct quote from Stuck in Love). 

I love writers and I love giving feedback, and despite my near constant desire to be somebody or hold my book in my hands, I have the propensity to be resentful. So don’t cut yourself short and work with somebody that makes you feel like your writing isn’t good enough. Work with somebody in another genre that makes you think, one that you know you can add something to because it’s action and you can tell, as a reader, that sometimes action needs to be cut up with some nice analysis of the world around us and our place in it. 

All readers are valuable. Especially ones that don’t read your genre because they are going to beg you to make your genre work for readers who prefer something else.

Feedback Quality

My PILC and I recently had a terrible experience with some bad feedback. The type of feedback that makes you fear for mankind. 

Do not pick somebody who is pretentious. I can’t stress it enough. If they think their work is completely flawless, it’s likely they’re an alien sent to Earth from a planet that breeds people who have no ability to relate to the human race. 

Because humans are an anxious bunch. And if you aren’t a little plagued with self-doubt, then it’s likely you’re a jackass, REALLY plagued and pretending you aren’t because you’re that insecure, or just in denial. 

Either way, you want somebody you can relate to.

If this person states their feedback as things you HAVE to do. They’re not for you.

Feedback comments are SUGGESTIONS. They are gentle nudges in a direction that isn’t right because there are no right directions to take in the writing world, but it’s at least in a direction that entices forward movement.

You do not HAVE to give away your entire book in the first chapter.

You do not HAVE to take out whole paragraphs because this person writes over-indulgent paranormal action and thinks your literary fiction drags and the paragraph with the action should start first. 

You do not HAVE to do ANYFUCKINGTHING and if this person is posing their opinion like it’s the only right opinion in this universe and you would be stupid not to take it then they are NOT FOR YOU. 

Pretentiousness is a sickness. It usually stems from insecurity. You don’t want somebody who is insecure going through your book because what they offer feedback wise is likely to be extensive and nearly impossible to wade through because out of eighty comments you might only be able to find four semi-good ones. Is it worth it to go through the other seventy-six that make you feel bad about yourself and directly contradict themselves when they say you have too much backstory in one comment but beg for exposition in another?

No. 

Remember this: if you think this person is trying to offend you, he/she probably is. Use your common sense and bullshit radar to decide if this person has an agenda that involves stroking their ego.

Find the person that gives you feedback that makes you EXCITED about writing. Feedback that is gentle but stern. Feedback that gives you a sense of pride in your work because it says this is really good, and I like this idea, but what if you phrased it differently. The type that says, this is sooo important but it’s telling and I think you should show it instead to make it stronger.

My PILC sends me feedback and when she does, I smile. 

And when I send feedback to her, it’s likely the majority of this feedback is “LOVE. LOVE THIS. THIS IS NICE. Nope, this word choice doesn’t work for me. OMIGODOMIGODOMIGOD THIS IS CUTE.”

Find that. Cherish it. Never let it go.

Timeline

If your critique partner is only getting you one chapter every two months, find another critique partner and focus your attention there. It’s always good to have two sources of feedback and NEVER sit on your hands and wait around for one person. Go out and find as many as you can.

Book Quality

I’m just going to say it, if you exchange chapters with someone whose book is a mini nightmare, it’s best you don’t continue on with them. Unless their feedback is amazing, you’re likely to fumble around feeling like you’re wasting your time on their project if it is so below grade even an army couldn’t solve it.

I hate to say it, because writing is hard, but sometimes it takes a couple tries before you get something good. Working on a book you don’t like will always be a waste of time. Find somebody whose work you are passionate about!

You WANT this person to succeed. It it’s obvious you won’t be doing anything but offering monotone criticism on a book that makes you want to scratch your eyes out, STOP what you’re doing and direct your attention elsewhere. That is a waste of time.

Gender

Doesn’t matter AT all. One of my beta-readers is a man and he has given me some of the BEST feedback I could’ve asked for. I actually suggest you work with both men and women.

I had no idea how to write a teenage boy and this beta-reader was the first to say, hey, you’re not portraying him right, he sounds too sophisticated and teenage boys are often not.

Personality

My PILC and I are like the same person. I kid you not. 

The first time we FaceTimed it was for over two and half hours. Because talking with her is so EASY. Going through her work and my work together is so EASY. Bitching about the querying process is so EASY.

Find someone you want to be friends with. Someone who enjoys your work, wants to talk about your characters, and is vulnerable enough to say I worry that I’m never going to get published but I know my work is good enough. 

Find someone that you miss talking to after like two days of silence. 

You want to have a friendship with this person because you are entrusting them with your baby. You want them to feel comfortable enough to be completely candid in their feedback, but you also want to be able to ask them about one of their comments. 

Quite simply put, you want someone who is going to be there for you throughout the entire process, you want a partner that is going to go the whole distance with you, because it’s hard to be creative in this world, it’s lonely and often forces you to be devoid of emotion. You want someone you can cry to who understands how hard it is.

Your critique partner should be one of your best friends. 

Find somebody you can be happy for and want to cheer on. Somebody that sure, might be a better writer than you but you love so much and are able to stand behind them even though they’re accomplishing something you’ve worked hard for just because you can’t imagine a better person for it to happen to.

Find somebody that writes characters you can SCREAM at because you’re so comfortable with them you know you can go through their next chapter  and be like WTF MC WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU PULLING AWAY FROM THAT KISS HE WANTS YOU GOD YOU HORRIBLE UNGRATEFUL HUMAN.

Do you feel envious of my relationship with my PILC yet?

If so, go out right now and find your own PILC. Find that person that you can tweet, text at three AM when you feel like you’re going nowhere, and share all of your ideas with. 

It will be one of the best things you’ve done in a long time.

That’s all for now kids,

Charlee

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