~ By Veronica Forand
Finding a good critique partner is more difficult than finding a potential spouse. The search can bring forward hundreds of potential partners, but compatibility is key. You shouldn’t focus on locating a new friend, a personal cheerleader, or a writer that is better than you and will carry you along to success on their skill alone. If, however, Nora Roberts or Susan Elizabeth Phillips needs someone to help them out now and then, they should call me. Finding the perfect critique partner involves locating a writer that fits your writing style and your business plan.
I’m lucky. I found such a person. Within one year of becoming critique partners, Susan Scott Shelley and I moved from having one final and no wins between us to becoming finalists in over twenty writing contests, including the Golden Pen, and winning seven. In some cases, we’ve competed head to head, Susan winning some and myself winning others. Through it all, we’ve used our experiences as motivation to fuel our careers and have become great friends. The key to our success is trust, hard work, and honesty.
Here’s a list of things to look for in a potential critique partner:
Writing style. A critique partner needs to understand your voice and style. They don’t have to write the type of book you’re writing, but they must enjoy reading that genre or their feedback may not be useful.
Know what you’re looking for in a critique. Someone to spot grammar and spelling mistakes, plot holes, or everything? Some writers enjoy having their words reworked by another person, others are only looking for big picture issues. Be specific and notice your partner’s strengths as well as weaknesses. You may find a person who is lousy with plotting, but can take an unredeemable man and help turn them into a unforgettable hero.
Common goals and time commitment. Can you meet on-line, in person, on the phone? How often? Where one partner is committed full-time to writing and the other can only squeeze a few hours out of every weekend for writing, having a balanced relationship may be difficult. Not impossible, just more difficult. Susan and I meet in person once every week. The accountability turbo-charges our motivation to be productive.
At times, it’s necessary to admit that the relationship isn’t working. Perhaps you need to slow down and only exchange one chapter every other week, yet your partner wants to barrel ahead with three chapters per week. Maybe you don’t like reading the first person point of view and your partner has decided to write a seven book series in that style. Or one critique partner may need to take a break from writing due to life issues. If both partners aren’t benefitting from the collaboration, the issues can fester and brew until the partnership is marred by resentment. Admit it’s not working before the relationship disintegrates. A former critique partner might become a beta reader or a person to share the good, the bad, and the humiliating things that occur while trying to live a writer’s life.
Honesty is the most important piece of the puzzle. You need to trust that your critique partner has your best interests at heart. If there is a major problem with a hero’s motivation or a major plot issue, a good critique partner shouldn’t hold back for fear of hurting your feelings. Even if it means rewriting ten or more pages. I’m not looking for a cheerleader. I’m looking to publish quality work. Potential agents and editors will have no such hesitation telling me a story doesn’t work. That said, I live for smiley faces in the margins of my work and Susan obliges me with enough positive comments to keep me happy, even when she tells me my scene is lacking a goal, motivation, or conflict and should, therefore, be cut or rewritten.
Critique partners also need to be honest about each other’s victories and rejections. When Susan won the 2013 Daphne du Maurier Award, I admit to feeling envious. I’m human and not a particularly perfect human. At the same time, I was overjoyed to be in the audience when they called her name. It was truly one of my favorite moments as a writer. Why? My critique partner won the award. How cool is that? And when she hits the NYT bestseller list, not only can I share in her happiness, I have a guaranteed blurb for the front cover of my next novel. Working as a team will provide far more opportunities and victories to share than working against each other.
Marriages are hard work and so are critique partnerships. Find the right person, know when a partnership isn’t working out, be honest with them, and enjoy the journey together.
Veronica Forand is an attorney and an award-winning writer of romantic suspense, including the 2013 Molly and The Lone Star Writing Competitions. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America, RWA’s Contemporary Romance Writers, the Valley Forge Romance Writers, and the Washington Romance Writers.
She has lived in Boston, London, Paris, Geneva, and Washington, DC and is currently residing in Philadelphia. An avid traveler, she roams across five continents in pursuit of skiing, scuba diving, and finding the perfect piece of chocolate. Connect with Veronica on her website: www.veronicaforand.com