Don’t Be A Good Critique Partner, Be A Great One

How to Be a Great Critique Partner

Being a Critique Partner and trading chapter for chapter is part of the writing game. The benefits are numerous and there are plenty of posts out there that talk about why you should have a CP if you don’t already have one.

But I’m not going to be talking about why you need a CP. You need feedback on your work no matter how great of a writer you are. This is something that goes without saying, it’s one of those obvious facts of life.

Today I’m going to talk about the expectations of critique partners, particularly my own and how you can be a better critique partner for your writing pals.

You see, for me, the topic of critique partners is a little bit of a touchy one. Not only have I committed several of these blunders myself, but I’ve also been at the receiving end of some of the more destructive ones.

There is nothing more demoralizing than putting yourself out there looking for genuine help and getting someone who thinks they’re better than you.

Luckily, I have a wonderful and incredibly supportive team of CP’s to work with now. But as I’ve hinted at before, it was a long road to get here.

I owe inspiration for today’s post to the many writers who’ve shared with me their CP experiences as well as my own cringeworthy missteps. Let’s face it, we’re human. We make mistakes. It happens. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make fun of ourselves every now and then, right? It also doesn’t mean that just because we’ve maybe done some of these things that we can’t strive to improve.

For illustrative purposes in some of my points, we’re going to pretend that you and I are critique partners. So let’s get to it and get right down to the nitty gritty.

How to Be a Great Critique Partner

1. Be in This for The Right Reasons

Finding a CP is like dating. It’s awkward and there is some chafing to be expected. Figure out why you want a CP and make sure it’s for the right reasons. Don’t go trolling around for someone just so you can try to fish for compliments and boost your self-esteem. You need to be secure in your writing or at least secure in your desire to improve or else the entire critique partner thing is going to be incredibly painful for you.

2. Be Upfront About What You Want

You need to know why you want a CP and exactly what you are going to ask of them. If you need a linebyline, then say so. If you prefer an overall chapter analysis then tell them that. If you’re looking for someone that is brutally honest, or someone that can see the bigger picture, or just someone to talk about writing with you, then you’re going to have to come out of that little turtle shell of yours and speak up.

There is no worse experience than trying to gel two different expectations.

Know your style and what you bring to the table so you can find someone that is looking for the same thing. Eventually, you’ll find someone who understands your vision and will be able to help you grow.

3. Make Suggestions for Improvement

This is huge! I LOVE it when my CP’s make suggestions for HOW to improve flow, structure, un-stiffen dialogue, etc. A vague comment on the side of my document sans suggestions for how to revise is USELESS to me and frankly a little frustrating. Telling me that you don’t like something means nothing without information and it just makes me feel annoyed.

If I can take the time when I CP your manuscript and think up ways for how you can improve your work, then do me a solid and return the favor. Because what this really means to me is that you genuinely care about my work and hope to see it eventually succeed.

I understand that some people don’t always have the right words for “how to fix” some weakness in another person’s work, but being specific about why you don’t like something should be good enough. Moreover, regardless of whether or not you have a degree and regardless of your knowledge concerning craft, you should be able to point out weaknesses and how these things could be better. You’re a writer too. You do this for yourself, why shouldn’t you extend that courtesy to your critique partner?

4. Be Specific in Your Feedback

This really should go without saying, especially as a follow-up to number three. But when you’re giving negative criticism, you should be as specific as you possibly can as to WHY something isn’t working for you. Vague statements just don’t cut it.

Why?

Because I need to understand what I’m doing wrong. If I wrote it, CLEARLY I think it’s fine. But if I’m sending it to you, CLEARLY I want to improve it. Right?

So the next logical step for you is to be specific in telling me where I missed the mark. Then you go back to trait number three and make a valuable suggestion for improvement.

Don’t forget to be reasonable. If you tell me that you hate my cheerleader character just because you HATE cheerleaders…ummm, first off grow up and second off try to be a little more objective.

Rational and fair people, let’s stay classy San Diego.

5. Don’t Be A Yes-Man

This is the worst thing for an author to be surrounded by. Don’t get me wrong. By all means shower me with your unfailing love when I’m doing something right, comment all your fangirling when I’ve hit you right in the feels. But don’t think you have to yes-man me just because you’re afraid to hurt my feelings.

Progress requires honesty.

6. Structure Your Criticism Constructively

The point of Critique Partners is to be constructive. Key word here is CONSTRUCTIVE. That means helpful. What that doesn’t mean is destructive. So don’t be a dick.

Just because you don’t start out knowing your CP well, and just because you think you’ll probably never meet this person in real life doesn’t mean you have the liberty to rip everything of theirs to shreds. The truth of the matter is that sending back chapter by chapter takes time. People have lives. This process can span over a few months if not more. So if you’re an ass, you’re going to burn down some bridges.

7. Have Some Thick Skin

Just because some group of beta readers from however long ago loved some former version of your manuscript, that doesn’t mean I care. Take the critique I gave you now and grow some thick skin. I guarantee that a critique from me is a million times better than you putting your book out there selfpublished and letting it fall into the hands of some of those teeny bopper reviewers out there who are BRUTAL or the Grinch when she gets going.

Stay level-headed. Remember that as your CP, I’m trying to help you. Remember that I don’t have bad intentions and that it’s not my goal in life to hurt you. So please, do us both a favor and don’t respond as if I’ve just told you that I think your baby is ugly. Don’t attack me with reams of explanations for every comment I send to you. Your defensiveness just comes off as petty and frankly desperate. Remember, trait number five? I’m not your yes-man.

8. Know How to Use What Serves You

On that note though, just because I suggest something that doesn’t mean you necessarily need to heed it. It’s just a suggestion. My word is not the law. It’s your work so use what serves you and move on.

On the converse of that, if you find that you’re always disregarding your CP’s suggestions you may want to consider whether or not the two of you are a good fit. Compare their feedback to other feedback to see if it’s similar. If you don’t have another CP, find one and ask for a second opinion. If there is just a huge discrepancy in opinion between your sources of feedback and you’re not learning anything that serves you from the CP providing the vastly differing feedback, then you should politely cut the ties.

If all else fails, use the 50% rule. If more than half of the feedback you receive shares the same or a similar opinion then you need to change something.

Because here’s the harsh truth, while this is your work and while you don’t have to take other’s opinions above your own, if you are constantly getting negative feedback on the SAME things in your work, then perhaps you need to stop being so stubborn and stop listening to the yes-men who aren’t helping you grow as a writer.

The purpose of a great critique partner to help you improve, not placate you.

9. Be Mindful and Courteous

If you can dedicate your time and energy to being a critique partner then the key to this relationship is to be helpful through suggesting improvement, being courteous and by communicating with your partner to let them know what’s going on with you.

If they send you chapters and you can’t get around to them because LIFE then just say so. Try to get to those chapters done as soon as possible but your critique partner will understand that you can’t do them this week. Just don’t put off your partners chapters indefinitely. That’s not cool.

10. Remember That You Are Not a Free Copyeditor

A common misconception about CPs is that they are free copyeditors. Wrong.

If, however, you’ve been blessed by the kind of CP who wants to be an adorable little button and clean up your booboos all on their own, then by all means let them. But definitely be sure to thank them for that because that is not in their job description.

Furthermore, if your writing needs a lot of work in the spelling and grammar department then hire a copy editor. The term is Critique Partner, emphasis on critique. Their job is to help you GROW by suggesting ways to HELP you fix your work. Again, you may luck out and have a super awesome CP who likes to be incredibly helpful and copyedit for you here and there. But you should NEVER expect that from them.

11. Don’t Ghost

This ties in to a few of the aforementioned points. If the relationship isn’t working anymore or the critique you receive from your partner makes you want to stop writing because it’s not constructive, then it’s time to politely step away.

But be an adult about it! Don’t ignore their emails or slowly give less and less critique and try to render yourself useless. You aren’t a teenager trying to get their boy/girlfriend to break up with them by being shitty and distant. You are a professional. So BE professional.

Tell your partner the truth so they don’t waste their time and energy on you. But for the love of everything in this world be polite (DO NOT BURN BRIDGES!).

12. Take Yourself Out of the Game If You Have to

If you can’t put in the kind of time, care, patience, and dedication being a critique partner requires, then take yourself out of the game.

“But I need my book critiqued!” You say.

Then hire someone. Don’t subject someone to your half-assed job and frustrate them to the ends of this earth because you can’t be straight with them. If they took the time to critique half of your manuscript for you, but you can’t even send them back their first chapter, then you need to realize that trading a service for a service isn’t for you. Pay a professional. End of story.


Perhaps I’ve set the bar too high. I mean, I do this for a living; I work for a university and teach college students how to write better. Quite literally, my job is to critique. So I think it’s fair to say that I know a thing or two about the critiquing process.

On the other hand, by no means do I expect people to be perfect. But I do expect a certain level of care and professionalism. Because you know what? I don’t think I’m really asking for much, when it comes down to it. I’m asking for genuineness, for a real relationship built on two people who WANT TO HELP each other. I think we owe it our CPs to be the best we can be.

We’re trading a service for a service here. Be on your A-game and hold your CP to these standards as well. If they can’t cut it, you don’t want to work with them anyway. Excellence begets excellence.

Provide the kind of service that you expect to receive. Half-ass it and don’t be upset when you get half-assed junk in return.

It’s a relationship. A PARTNERSHIP. Hence the term Critique Partner. Being on the same level with each other and communicating with one another is part of the process.

I realize that my expectations for critique partners aren’t standard practice, but they damn well should be.

*Special thanks goes to Tristen van den Berg who beta’d and CP’ed this post.*

Did you like today’s post? Do me a solid and click those share buttons down below. Or better yet, send me a shout-out telling me your thoughts on social media! Let’s connect.

Discussion: What do you think about the critique partner process? What traits would you add to this list?

Until next time!

Keep Reading and Keep Writing,

Nicolette

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Goodreads

Advertisements

20 thoughts on “Don’t Be A Good Critique Partner, Be A Great One

    1. Haha! Don’t let me publish crap is totally a starting place! Setting expectations is great I think for both parties so both people can get what they need out of the relationship. Also talking through those expectations as you work with someone to tailor your needs is definitely a viable option! It’s partially how Tristen and I got into our amazing partnership! We did talk through it first, but we also are continually growing together to better help and accommodate what the other needs at any given time.

  1. Wow, Nic – WOW, a fantastic post! Everyone thinking of CPing needs to read this!!!
    My own experiences: I ended up writing the book I’m about to query very soon, without a CP. Someone was very kind enough to read it all through & give me their thoughts, and even look again at the revised bits, several times. And I’ve been blessed with a couple of fab beta readers recently too, so I consider myself incredibly lucky. However, I’d very definitely try for at least 2 CP’s with Book 2, as it’s a bit late when someone else suddenly sees it after you’ve already slogged on it for at least a year lol! (I just found out about CP’s so late into the game!) Also, I’d love chapter by chapter feedback, and fixing stuff as you go along, sounds ace. Also, different people have different skills and notice different weaknesses/areas for improvement, so it’s vital you have more than 1. I LOVE your list of points.
    Something I learnt through my own experience was that even if it doesn’t work out with a CP (because they genuinely don’t get on with your style), you can still learn something from them – always. An intended CP and I critiqued each others first few chapters and she struggled with my style. I’m very lucky that I recognised she struggled with the style full stop, and that if I made the changes suggested, I’d have lost my own natural style of writing. Did we have a fall out? No way. I don’t understand the whole tantrums stuff. I excused them from CP’ing mine, and promised I’d still CP for them though. Because they just didn’t understand/like my style – it was NOTHING personal! They are a very different writer to me, that’s all. They are a very talented writer themselves, by the way, and I look so forward to the day their story comes out! They pointed out a few ways in which I could improve my writing; I didn’t understand fully and asked for further clarification and also examples. They sent me examples and links, and I found these SO helpful!!! I’ve never ever been told that I ‘tell not show’ or use any form of filtering, ever since. They helped me BIG time there 🙂 So don’t be shy – just say so when you don’t understand the feedback but are dying to know & implement it!
    I write SO differently to this person, but still recognised feedback that I knew would improve my writing – skills greatly missing in my writing, and I racked my brains (and theirs lol!) for how to implement them and learn. I’ve never ever asked someone to look at my work, and not found at least one helpful comment in their feedback. We can always learn something from each other. NOBODY KNOWS EVERYTHING! So I’d add to your list that it’s not the end of the world if you don’t like or understand someone else’s style. Like you say, be honest up front and tell them asap. It helps no-one for you to continue pulling your hair out as you go through it. How many books do we pick up based on the blurb, but then leave because ‘it’s not our thing?’. The style of writing just didn’t grab us, that’s all. The amount of 250s I’ve critiqued for contests & thought, I’m so glad I’m not critiquing this MS…because it’s so not my thing, that’s all. I’d honestly just be pulling my hair out trying to get them to change everything probably!
    And so I’d add that we need to know & recognise when to listen to someone else and change our writing, and when to know that, ‘Actually, they just aren’t grasping my style, and if I change it to write more like them, I’ll lose what makes my writing mine.’ Poor writing is poor writing, but different styles is an entirely different thing. Learn to recognise that, and you’ll know if & when to bow out graciously. Simple as that, no drama. Basically, like you say, don’t get into CPing if you don’t have a thick skin. The whole point of it is to learn – not to have a tantrum and argue the feedback when someone else has given you their time & effort. If you receive anything back from someone who makes you feel like you seriously ought to give up writing then you’re just not suited to each other. They just don’t get your style of writing, and find someone who does. It doesn’t mean a fall-out. Either CPs click, or they don’t – that’s what swopping the first or so chapter is all about!!! And if they’re rude…well then, they were simply not breast-fed.
    THANK YOU SO MUCH for a detailed and most perfect post on this, Nic – everyone thinking of CPing needs to read this post!!! You’re a very talented doll ❤ Ooh, and I've gone on…. Gosh, very unlike me :-X

    1. London! I’m so glad that you enjoyed and liked this post ^.^

      I also love your additions: have more than 1 CP, recognize when styles don’t click, and get feedback earlier in your writing timeline.

      Something that my writing mentor told me to do which has helped me immesley the past two months has been to stop getting chapter by chapter feedback while I’m still working on Dreamweaver. Her reasoning was particular to me and how I am as a writer so I took her advice and my writing has been flowing a lot more freely since then. So what I learned from that is: Sometimes chapter by chapter can block your writing if your still working on a draft.
      Thank you so much for stopping by and for leaving a wonderful comment full of wisdom and experience! 😉

  2. This is great information! How do you find the people that click? Are there questions you ask them upfront that help with that or is it very trial and error?

    1. Hi Kay!

      This is a great question and now that you’ve asked it I realize that a follow up post would probably better answer your question more thoroughly. However, to try to be brief and not write you an essay, lol, I think that both CPs should start by asking each other why they want a CP, what they expect from one (i.e to be constructive and provide valuable suggestions for improvement) and if both people agree on those facets then they should talk about the each other’s work (genre, draft stage, blurbs, etc). This would take place over a series of emails and once the blurbs are exchanged and both people are on board. Then I’d say to go ahead and trade 1st pages only. You can trade 1st page in single or double space, specs really don’t matter. The point is to see if there is a meshing of style both in writing and in method of critiquing. This is because the majority of a person’s writing strengths and their weakness will show up in that first page. Rather than commit to a whole chapter, which for some people is a couple of pages and for others is twenty, this way you both are taking on the same amount of work. Even steven.
      So in a way it is still very trial and error because you have to see if you two will click after each series of questions and especially after that first page critique.
      I hope that was helpful.
      Thanks for stopping by today Kay! I hope to see you back here again as I talk shop! 🙂

      1. Thank you so much for taking the time to give me such a detailed answer. That sounds like a great process to use! I’ll be looking for a CP soon, so nice to have this info handy. 🙂

      2. Thank you! It sounds like it’ll be an interesting process. I’ll just need to be patient to find the people that click. 🙂

    1. Thank you Faith! I am so glad that you liked it and I’m happy to share the collective knowledge other writers have taken the time to share with me. Sort of my way of paying it forward, I guess ^.^

  3. YAY TO THIS POST!!! It is utterly golden, *nods sagely* And I agree with so many of your points. I think it’s important for a wrtier to have, like, a cheering squad AND a critique partner. Preferably two separate people. XD Because you need to be motivated and encouraged and you need to get better…but the balance of the two is really needed. Omg, and I totally like what you said in #10. I’ve swapped manuscripts with people before and been SO frustrated to realise I’m actually reading a first draft. GAH. NO. I believe writers shouldn’t be given out their first drafts. If you don’t have time to go back through and clean it up, it’s really unfair to expect someone else to. Pet peeve of mine. hehe.

    And the specific thing = YES. I hate it when people just say “well I didn’t like so-and-so’s character”. And I’m sitting there like “But why? And what do you suggest? How would you like him better? HELP ME HERE THAT’S WHAT WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE DOING.” xD

    Excellent post! I loved it!

    1. CAIT!!!!! <—–I feel like I must always squeal your name, IDK why, I just get so excited to see you here! Lol ^.^

      Ahhh!!! I haven't run into the first draft thing with other people. Tristen, the CP who critiqued and beta-ed this post, and I have a really really great cheerleading and critiquing relationship. We've been working together for almost 9 months and NOW we send each other first draft stuff but that's because we're cool with it. Receiving a janky MS full of grammar and spelling errors would upset me too. I totally agree with you. I'd probably just bow out because I wouldn't take them seriously. Like if they couldn't clean it up a bit (it doesn't have to be perfect or anything just readable) then I'd probably think they weren't serious about publication (which may or may not be true but first impressions, you know). And based off that alone I could see myself bowing out because I am serious about publication.

      YAS!! Specific! It's totally fine with me if someone doesn't like a character. (I dont' think every character needs to be liked anyway). BUT, I do need to know what isn't coming across on the page the way I had intended. Especially if it is a character that's funny, or swaggery, or just all around swoon-worthy. Lol.

      Thank you so much for all the love!! I'm so glad that you enjoyed it! 🙂

  4. I agree on all of those points! Of course we all need our own hype boys/girls every now and then, but without suggestions for improvement the story is never going to get better. And I need more than “This doesn’t work” too! I need reasons! Suggestions! Something!

    1. I agree with you, we definitely need a cheerleading squad to encourage us and keep us sane. Without it the process can feel so lonely.

      My CP who beta’d today’s post is part cheerleader and CP. In the comments section of my doc there will be suggestions for how to improve something and then the next comment down is and “lol” or a “Ha! I knew it.” I think sprinkling in the things that just are awesome (aka go into a bit of fangirl/boy mode) whilst getting to the nitty gritty of how to make this work even better is the best way to have a CP relationship.

  5. I love this post so much. I think more CP’s need to see this! I know how difficult it can be to get CRITICIZING CRITICISM (opposed to constructive ones) and the whole process of getting thick skin. You see authors berating reviewers for their honest reviews and it’s like “Did your CP’s just shower your work with praise?” You’re always going to get someone who doesn’t like something others love! So the sooner they realize that, the better.

    And omg – the ghost outing thing is so common. Especially in this digital age, it’s really easy to ignore someone, or just slowly back away without being direct. It’s kind of a waste of time for both parties in the end though. THAT’S WHY MORE PEOPLE NEED TO READ THIS LIST. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

    1. Aila! I’m so so glad that you found this list helpful and think it would be helpful for others! That really means so much!
      I agree with everything you said, while I think it’s great to have a cheerleading squad telling an author that their work is great I believe that they also need their key people who are going to point out the weaknesses so they can improve them.

      Nothing will ever be perfect, but part of getting multiple opinions is to see what someone else sees through their lens with their experiences as a launch pad to aid us. So it’s important to me to get lots of input both positive and negative because it will only serve to improve me and my work and help me grow that thick skin I know I’ll need when I am published.
      Thank you sooo much for stopping by! I really am so glad that you enjoyed today’s post! ^.^

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s