Naomi here. I’ve read numerous posts on crit partners, and every time I read one, it often gives advice I never follow. So I frantically email Melissa and say, “We don’t do half this stuff. Am I failing you?” So we revaluate our critiquing and always arrive at the same conclusion:
“No way I’m giving you up or asking you to crit differently. Even if you become a NYT bestselling author, you promised to keep critting for little ol’ me, remember? Please, please, please, don’t leave me!!!”
Then we continue critting as usual.
Why? Because we know we’re making each other better writers no matter how much our critiques initially hurt.
So we thought we’d write a critique partner post Naomi wouldn’t panic over! The first section contains suggestions for finding a crit partner, the second dives into maintaining a good CP relationship.
Guidelines for who’ll make a good CPF – Crit Partner Forever:
1. Find someone who wants to learn and write at the same pace– You need to have approximately the same work load to stay fair. Even pre-published, consider how quickly you write, how quickly you want crits turned around, and how determined you are to get published.
2. Find someone who writes in your genre (and probably even in your sub genre) – We’ve worked with (and one still works with) someone outside of our genre, but you’ll likely outgrow a crit partner of another genre once you get published because after you’ve learned the basics of novel writing, your focus will switch to the expectations of the genre and its readers. A writer critting her preferred genre is a reader of that genre as well—and someone you want to make happy! She’ll be able to articulate why she’s not happy, give you suggestions for fixing problems, and possibly compare parts of your story to other novels—things someone unfamiliar with your genre might find difficult.
How do you know if “she/he’s the One”?
1. Show an example of how you crit a person’s pages – Prior to committing to a critiquing relationship, exchange sample crits so you have a good idea of what to expect. Then crit something short for each other. If you find the other person is too easy, too hard, or doesn’t get your stories, then move on. Finding a CPF is not easy, and you may need to work with several writers before you find the CP who’s right for you.
If you’re curious on what our crits to one another look like,
there’s a sample page on the Seekerville.com site for you to look at.
If you’re a member of ACFW (or a similar organization) join a large pool critiquing group. You can see how people crit without committing, determine what writing level you’re at, and keep an eye out for someone who crits the way you do. That’s how the two of us found each other. Melissa needed another critique group member and lurked in the big ACFW Scribes loop until she found someone who wrote at a similar level and critted in a similar fashion. Then she got down on her virtual knees and begged Naomi to give her group a month’s trial.
How to work with your CPF and stay CPFs:
1. Don’t be offended when your crit partner does his or her job - Your crit partner’s job is to criticize your writing. That’s right. I said criticize. Not spout fluffy little praises. Not make you feel like you’re going to sell more books than Nora Roberts.
In fact, your crit partner’s job is quite the opposite. She’s going to point out ALL the perceived story problems and every inconsistency (and sometimes the really BIG, really GLARING ones) so when an editor looks at the first two pages of your story, he/she will want to read the following two pages, then the next two after that, and that, etc.
Statements like: “Unless you want to lose me as a reader, you need to either make a major change to your character’s motivation or rewrite the chapter” are the exact kind of statements you and your crit partner need to tell each other. If you don’t, not only will you hurt your CPF’s chances of selling the novel, but if the story gets a contract, an agent or editor WILL say those things. Or shudder—the Amazon One Star Review people who don’t care about your feelings will point your errors out to the world!
Your CPF may not catch everything your publisher will ask you to change, but you’re far more likely to sell to an editor desiring a handful of changes than to one who thinks it needs twenty plus.
2. If you find what you think is a big story-destroying problem, warn your CP – It’s never fun to hear, “You have no tension whatsoever in this scene. I wanted to fall asleep” or “Your heroine needs to grow some brains and get some balls, or I’m ready to throw her across the room.” (These are direct quotes, and no, we are not sharing which of us wrote the brains and balls sentence).
Even if you’ve sold millions of books, you can still disappoint readers. Sometimes your favorite authors disappoint with a boring book or an annoying heroine. So, tell your CPF what you think is a problem and give her as many suggestions as possible to jumpstart her problem-solving juices. BUT in your email, warn her!
Ex. “You’re not going to like this crit, so make sure you don’t have be happy at someone’s wedding today and have chocolate handy before opening it.”
That way, she can decide when to open your crit and mentally prepare herself for bad news.
If you’re on the receiving end of a painful crit, you may feel like a dunce or a failure, but remember, your CPF wants to save you from disappointing editors and readers. The overarching goal is to make your writing better, and good writing is hard work.
However, while pointing out the errors in your CPF’s story, keep these things in mind . . .
3. Be kind.
We admit we don’t like the sandwich principle for critiquing. Please don’t fill our chapters with two smiley faces for every one critical comment if you’re groaning through the whole thing because you’re completely bored with our story! (We know this flies in the face of the usual advice, but stick with us while we explain.)
- Say things as politely as possible. Write what you’re thinking about the story the first time through, then go back and see if you said things in the nicest way possible (sometimes you can sound snarky even if you don’t mean to—or because you really were!). Though, personally, we still laugh about the “get some brains and balls” comment, and one that went something like “You’re making me gag on the strawberries your hero is feeding your heroine.” Now when a scene needs a little more romance, we tell each other that we need to gag on some strawberries.
- Point out the good things you notice. Don’t force yourself to come up with nice things to say, but get in the habit of typing a smiley face when you actually smile, a “NICE” when you’re impressed with a turn of phrase, or an “LOL” when you chuckle, etc. Of course, longer praise is nice too, but don’t fake it! We want to hear what makes a critiquer genuinely happy—not what she fabricates to fit a ratio!
- Clean copy=KUDOS – If you have a page where your CPF says nothing, rejoice! That means it was perfect for them. That’s praise even if there are no compliments in the margin.
4. Learn to forgive
At times you may hurt or offend each other. Your comment might sound meaner than you intended, maybe a misunderstanding occurred in your emails, someone had a bad day, or perhaps your differing personalities require you to adjust how you communicate.
Regardless of the cause, you have to work through hurts like in any mature relationship. (Whose spouse hasn’t hurt them?) Your writing is a vulnerable part of you, and like a spouse who gets to see the “real you,” your CPF gets to see your biggest writing failures. Her job is to point those failures out, so don’t throw a tantrum and declare crit partners don’t work for you when she’s only doing her job. Grieve, let time take away the sting, pull up your big girl panties, etc. If needed, call your CPF to lament. She’ll more than likely apologize and then want to talk you through your story problem, because remember, you picked someone who loves your writing and believes in you!
Unexpected Benefits of Finding your CPF:
1. A friend – I think both of us would say we’re best of friends now. When you expose your raw writing to someone over and over again you’re bound to get close.
2. A prayer partner – What affects your life affects your writing. Your CPF will kick your behind if you’re procrastinating or pray trials go away so you can get back to creating the stories your CPF loves.
3. Someone safe to gripe to about publishing – Okay, maybe this works just for us, but there are things in this writing journey that simply suck. Whining to everyone at your writing conference table or complaining on a blog will hurt your reputation as an author. So a CPF can be a safe zone for complaining. (We have a Mutually Assured Destruction agreement. If we become enemies for some reason, we've sworn to destroy our emails to each other. Because boy oh boy have we written some incriminating things over the years. Gulp!)
4. A writing advocate/influencer – Not only does your CPF love your stories, but she had a hand in making it better and wants to see you and your stories find success! (She did, after all, put a ton of hours into your story too!)
We’re not perfect writers or people.
Recently, Naomi ditched and rewrote 13,000 words from one novel at Melissa’s advice, and Melissa completely rewrote the ending to her novella at Naomi’s advice.
And do you know what? It was painful to tell each other those rewrites were needed, and excruciating for us to rewrite what we thought was already perfect. But once we stepped back from our writing and considered our CPF’s advice, we knew our stories would be better with those changes. So now when we turn our stories into our editors and see our published novels in readers’ hands, we know they’re reading our best work because we critiqued each other’s novels as thoroughly as possible.
- A good critique partner will kindly but unashamedly point out every way she thinks you could do something better—because she believes you can do better!
- And a good writer will realize when a crit partner is right and change things instead of whining or giving up.
CPFs don’t let her CPFs publish books with known flaws—they’ve got your back. That’s what makes a good Critique Partner Forever.
Naomi Rawlings is mom to two young boys, a wife to her wonderful husband, an author for Love Inspired Historical, and an avid reader. She and her family live in Michigan’s rugged Upper Peninsula, where they get over 200 inches of snow per winter and share their ten wooded acres with black bears, wolves, coyotes, deer, and bald eagles. Because of her romance novel addiction (and the alarmingly high number of books she devours per week) she started a website for inspirational romance lovers like herself: www.inspirationalromanceratings.com. Naomi is looking forward to the release of her next book, The Wyoming Heir, in January 2014. For more information about Naomi or her books, please visit her website at www.naomirawlings.com.
Melissa Jagears, an ESL teacher by trade, is a stay-at-home mother on a tiny Kansas farm with a fixer-upper house. She apologizes if she’s not commenting up a storm today. She very well could be in a hospital delivering a third child due on the 12th because she decided she wasn’t busy enough. But she’s got a free ebook novella, Love by the Letter, available this month to make up for it! It’s the prequel to her debut novel A Bride for Keeps releasing October 1st. Learn more at www.melissajagears.com.
***Note, Naomi is quite content (and rather busy and frazzled) with the two boys she already has. So she is most definitely NOT in the hospital having another baby today and should be around to answer any questions.
GIVEAWAY – Comment on this post and one commenter will win a copy of A Bride for Keeps in winner’s choice of format, another winner will receive Naomi’s debut Sanctuary for a Lady in ebook format only.
And EVERYONE can read Love by the Letter for free!