It’s easy to get a little selfish in love or critique partner relationships. Who doesn’t fantasize about lying back against the pillows while someone strong and skilled and devastatingly gorgeous does all the work and you just savor the feel of…
I’m sorry, where was I?
Critique partners. Right.
I have three, and through some bizarre twist of timing, I haven’t been called upon to read new work from any of them for at least six months. They’ve all done critiques for me in that time, setting up a slight imbalance that’s all take and no give.
Not that I’m complaining about being the taker.
When I saw the new file in my inbox from a critique partner last night, I confess I felt a tiny stab of disappointment. It was the end of “it’s all about me.”
Or was it?
Truth be told, there’s a lot to be gained from being on the giving end of a critique partner dynamic. Here are four things I can think of:
Reading is a good thing
Whenever I’m asked for the best advice I can give writers hoping to improve, I tell them to read. Read fiction, non-fiction, novels, magazines, and cereal boxes. Reading new material from a critique partner fits the bill, with the added perk of forcing you to read more closely than you might if you were merely studying the back of the Lysol can in the bathroom.
Do it to yourself
Show of hands for those of you in critique partner relationships – how many times have you torn up a partner’s chapter and then opened your own manuscript to discover you’re guilty of the same damn offense you just nailed someone else for? Whether it’s plot holes or “telling” instead of “showing,” we’ve probably all done it. There’s something about nit-picking another person’s work that sharpens your ability to see similar errors in your writing. Use that to your advantage and turn your finely-tuned critical eye back on yourself.
Give a little, get a little
One of the best things about working with other writers is that no one does it quite the same way. The critique partner who sent me her work the other night is a neurotic plotter, while I take the seat-of-my-pants (pantster) approach. Our individual strategies work fine for us, but we can always learn from each other.
In plotting her new cozy, my critique partner created a Q&A document to answer important questions like “Who is the murder victim?” and “What motive does the heroine have for wanting him dead?” and “Who is the real killer?” She’d already answered most of the questions for herself, but since she’d left the last one blank, I took the liberty of joking that half the fun of being a pantster is finding out whodunit at the same time the other characters do.
Then I found myself looking at her Q&A chart with envy, thinking, “hey, that might make life easier the next time I write a cozy…”
It’s fun to swing both ways
Brainstorming together is a big part of my process with any critique partner. Sharing ideas about writing gets your brain chewing on crunchy nuggets of story ideas that may not all fit into one manuscript. While I’d never suggest stealing anything from a critique partner’s work, it’s unlikely all the tidbits you brainstorm together will be used in a single story. If an idea gets tossed in your partner’s trash bin with no hope of resurrection, there’s no shame in asking if you can dig it back out, dust it off, and fit it into your own story.
What do you gain from being on the giving end of critiques? Is it better to give than receive, or is the balance what makes things gratifying for all involved? Do you prefer to lie back and take, take, take, or do you find satisfaction in giving, too?
Is it hot in here?