Denise Talks…Defining Successful Critique Partners
It’s not unusual lately for writers I don’t know to approach me and ask me to critique a piece they’ve written. In fact, as the date of Legacy’s release grows nearer, it’s happening about once a week. I was completely stumped as to why strangers would want me to read their work until a friend, also a published author, pointed it out to me.
“C’mon, Denise. You seriously don’t get it?” she asked.
“You’re going to be published. You’ve been edited. You’ve got an agent. They want to know what you know so they can find their own success.”
I couldn’t believe it. (Yes, if you’re still wondering, I’m a bit naïve.) Yet the more I thought about it, the more I realized she had a point. As writers, we want the opportunity to learn as much as we can from those who have slogged the path before us and emerged victorious in some way or another. Writers want some type of guidance in a field that provides almost none for those who aren’t published (yet). So we seek out those with the experience, with the careers we hope to emulate, and we ask for help.
Somewhere in all of this, the urban fantasy has been born that a good critique partner is a “successful” writer. Success is defined individually, hence the quotes, but is most often considered applicable to those who have one or more of the following:
— an agent
— a publishing contract
— an editor
— a published work
I disagree. Success cannot by any mean be defined so narrowly, particularly not if we hope to leave our own mark on the definition. Likewise, a successful critique partner is not defined so narrowly as one who has a certain, limited set of skills. For example, what I might bring to a specific critique is likely to be different than what one of my two CPs would bring. Why? Because we both come to the table with different histories, education, backgrounds and experiences.
When you begin searching for a solid critique relationship, you need to first take a good hard look at yourself. What are your greatest strengths in writing? I guarantee it won’t be one of the four things listed above. You can’t come to a critique partnership and tell your prospective partner “I have an agent” and expect anything more than a general congratulations.
What you must instead do is sell the skills you have and let the person you are interested in partnering with what you hope to find in return. Some skills I suggest people look for are: line editing, world building, characterization, dialogue, layering abilities, plotting, conceptual development, and cheerleading. Yes, that last is an accurate skill. Your CP can often help you out of the Writers’ Dolldrums when they hit you hard. Never discount the power of a good cheerleader.
So think about what you want in a critique partner and set about finding it by seeking out writers’ groups (local and online), creative writing courses (community and/or institutionally based), looking at local colleges, or even posting an ad in a coffee shop stating what you’re looking for as well as general contact information.
Don’t limit your definition of both a “good” CP and a “successful” writer. Keep your eyes wide open to the opportunities you have to define your own successes as you pursue your writing goals, and value your critique partners for the unique skills they bring to the table.